11/10/2012 10:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant N.Y. Correspondent
MARION, N.Y. — Boerman’s Furniture Farm was named with tongue-in-cheek humor. It is a farm — owner David Boerman still raises hay — and the heritage behind its antiques and upholstering business is agricultural.
David’s father, Peter, was a dairyman with a small Guernsey herd and a few other animals: a typical small, family farm common to the era. To stay busy during the winter, he upholstered furniture. He opened Boerman’s Upholstery in 1938.
The furniture business grew. In 1947, Peter transformed a pig pen into a shop for the upholstery business. He discovered, as many people in upholstery find, that when people don’t pick up their finished pieces, it’s easy to get into the used furniture selling business. As the years passed, dairying became less profitable while the furniture and upholstery business did well. In 1962, Peter sold the dairy and remodeled the outbuildings into storage facilities for new and used furniture.
Peter taught his son the business, both the antique appraising and upholstering sides of it. Through the years, the furniture business grew, but larger growth spurts were yet ahead under David’s leadership.
“It just was upholstery and branched out into many other areas,” David Boerman said. “It’s multiplied a hundred times since I took over.”
The younger Boerman bought the business in 1974 and followed in his father’s footsteps, renovating ag structures into furniture shops. He added three more stories to the silo to hold more furniture and housewares, and pulled seven 40-foot tractor trailers onto the property to fill up, too.
“I have a big cobblestone house built in 1823,” Boerman said.
He loves antiques, especially those that are useful to people even now.
“A lot of older things just do what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “I have old and new bed frames, dressers, chest commodes, wood stoves, desks, buggies, surreys, sleighs, gas refrigerators and wringer washers.
He uses his commercial sewing machines to sew upholstery and leather, including harnesses. Boerman’s eclectic mix of sturdy, basic tools and equipment attracts a fair amount of business from Plain Sect customers.
In addition to furniture, Boerman sells appliances (though that has tapered off recently), housewares, antiques, collectibles and farm implements. These include bailers, hay bines, planters, cultivators and wagons.
He even has carried musical instruments. Though not the quality or condition required for professional musicians, they filled the bill for student instruments.
“When my kids were younger, they’d come out and borrow them for band or put on shows for us at the house,” David said.
When it comes to his regular customers, “every day it’s something different,” he said. “I like communicating with people. Some people come for a fridge but buy a rug. It’s not always what they come for.”
Browsers have plenty to see among his five-story barn, four-story silo, three-story barn, tractor trailers and other outbuildings. He stocks the structures from treasures he discovers at estate sales and auctions.
In addition to keeping up inventory and upholstering, Boerman and his wife, Ann, an x-ray technician, breed and sell border collies.
He still farms 250 to 300 acres of hay every summer.
“It keeps me from getting too fat and ugly,” he joked.
He put up about 8,000 bales this season. He sold his herd of Guernseys about 18 months ago. The farm used to raise guinea hens and pigs, too.
His six grown children — four girls and two boys — all completed or are attending college, a fact that pleases Boerman. Among them are a teacher, farmer, nurse, librarian, nursing student and animal science major.
“They come back and help from time to time,” Boerman said. “My kids worked with me for many years and I put up a lot of hay. My girls don’t seem to come home during haying season, but if I really need them, they’ll come.”
Though the appliance business has fallen off and the used furniture isn’t as popular as it was, hand pumps and basic tools have grown in popularity.
“City people come out here because they like the way we do things,” Boerman said. “We also sell things that farmers need.”
Building an empire and raking in big bucks aren’t priorities or probably even considerations for Boerman. His business has grown as he has observed opportunities in the market and needs among his customers. He’s also doing something he loves.
Years ago, he worked at a local business that probably would have by now promoted him into a comfortable salary had he stuck with the company. However, he said, “What I do now is interesting. You help people when they need things they can’t find.”