NC furniture store closing after over a century and 4 generations of family business

·2 min read

Over the past century, Whitley Furniture Galleries has become a Triangle institution as it evolved into a sprawling complex spanning a city block in downtown Zebulon.

But after 113 years of running a family operation, there’s no one who can continue its legacy, its owners say.

The store is going out of business and liquidating its entire stock.

“It’s just time to retire and we don’t have anyone to give it to,” said Charles Whitley Estes, who co-owns the business with his sister, Nelle Carroll.

Four generations of Whitley relatives have operated the business since R.J. Whitley founded Zebulon Supply Company in 1909. R.J.’s son, C.V., took over the shop in 1924 before passing management to his daughter, Nancy, and her husband, Amos Estes, in 1959.

Customers shop at Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. The store is going out of business after four generations of family operation and the city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.
Customers shop at Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. The store is going out of business after four generations of family operation and the city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.

Their children, Charles Whitley Estes and Nelle Carroll, have run the business together for about 30 years.

“All of our family members have careers, and there’s really not a fifth generation to step in,” Estes told The News & Observer. “We explored other things — selling the business and this and that — and this turned out to be the best option.”

The siblings launched a liquidation sale last week to deplete the store’s supply. Customers have poured in from around the Triangle, they said, but nearly five warehouses remain full. Once stock is expended, the family plans to sell their buildings, which cover 101 to 149 W. Vance St., for about $5.3 million.

“With all these buildings it will open up a whole other street of, hopefully, eight or nine new businesses,” Estes said. “Maybe restaurants, residential — it could be a big boom for downtown Zebulon.”

Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon is going out of business after four generations of family operation. The city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.
Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon is going out of business after four generations of family operation. The city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.

Whitley boasts more than 65,000 square feet of furniture across eight showrooms — the largest stock in the Triangle, according to its website. Featured brands during its liquidation sale include Smith Bros., Gat Creek, Bradington-Young, Hooker, Universal, Bassett, Emerald Craft, Howard Miller, Alder & Tweed, Barcalounger and Dovetail.

Store management confirmed the retailer will fulfill all current orders.

“We’re still here for a little while,” Carroll said. “It’s been very emotional with it coming to an end. We’re definitely tied to this business. We grew up in it. And so it’s been difficult, but it was going to happen sometime anyway... We’re grateful to the customers and for all the years we had.”

It’s the second longtime furniture store in Wake County to close up shop. Rolesville Furniture closed its 20,000-square-foot showroom in November after over 40 years in downtown Rolesville. The owners decided to close before future road construction on Main Street forced them out of business.

Customers shop at Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. The store is going out of business after four generations of family operation and the city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.
Customers shop at Whitley Furniture Gallery in downtown Zebulon Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. The store is going out of business after four generations of family operation and the city block it covers will likely be redeveloped.
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