Allston Furniture Store to Close

 By Julianna Flamio
Boston University New Service

ALLSTON — As the busiest season of the year comes to a close for the furniture stores that line Allston Village, one in particular will close its doors for good at the end of this month.

Due to a 100% increase in rent and lingering economic woes, College Furniture & Rug will end its 25-year run at 137 Harvard Avenue, according to owner, Sal Barone, 59.

“I decided [on the close date] right before the September season, so I took advantage of the college kids coming back to move a lot of inventory,” Barone said.

After three years of paying $5,000 a month, Baron said the store’s rent will soon increase to $10,000. Barone added that his business has been on “the decline” since 2008.

“Sales have gone down every year,” he said. “That’s why we’re headed in this direction of going out of business, because of the recession.”

According to Barone, prior to the recession yearly sales at College Furniture & Rug were around $3 million. During the recession, sales halved to about $1.5 million annually.

“I haven’t paid myself a salary in four years,” Barone said.

Photo by Julianna Flamio

College Furniture & Rug isn’t alone facing high rents, though some stores are absorbing the costs better, for now. Lili Silvera, owner of Unique Furnishings, a used furniture store across the street from College Furniture & Rug, at 144 Harvard Avenue, said her two-year-old business is doing well despite the high operating costs.

“Everybody in this whole area is paying extremely high rent,” said Silvera. “This is why these businesses are going in and out and constantly changing. It’s just that the overhead is extremely high.”

Nevertheless, Alana Olsen, executive director of Allston Village Main Streets, said the Allston Village economy is doing well overall with a total of 264 “active” storefronts at the moment. According to Olsen, the non-profit organization surveys storefront occupancies in Allston Village at the beginning of every month.

“Our storefront occupancy rate is about 98 percent, which is very impressive,” she said. However, rent increases reflect Allston Village’s success in maintaining a high occupancy rate, according to Olsen.

“A lot of times when there is a significant improvement in an area, that causes rents to rise,” Olsen said. “The high rent is an indicator that there is a strong economy in the area.”

Indeed, Neal Wigetman of Sudbury, who owns Basics Carpet & Furniture at 151 Harvard Avenue, just steps away from College Furniture & Rug, said he opened two more Basics at the onset of the recession, one on Commonwealth Ave. in Allston and the other in Cambridge.

“It’s been going fine because we don’t feel this business, which is based on young working people and students, is greatly affected by the recession,” said Wigetman who has owned his store for 35 years. He said August and September sales make up 40 percent of the company’s annual sales.

Fredric Belleton, 42, owner of Easy Beds Home at 145 Brighton Avenue in Allston, said he has seen about a 70 percent increase in sales each year since taking over the store in 2010.

“We target the local people, so the floor is always changing,” Belleton said when asked how he manages to do well even during the “off season” when students are not in Allston.

As for Barone, who also owns Mr. Music directly across the street from College Furniture & Rug, after he closes down the store, he will dedicate “some time” to the guitar shop and try to ease into retirement.

“I decided it was time to start winding down,” Barone said. “I’ve just hung in there, hung in there and hung in there to try to turn things around, and it didn’t happen.”

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