Focus on service has been key to furniture store, which has been in business 95 years
BATAVIA – Struggling through a pandemic isn’t how Harry Wortzman planned to celebrate his company’s 95th anniversary in business.
Although the year has been a challenge, Wortzman continues to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and provide his customers with the best service possible.
Wortzman Furniture Store was founded by Harry’s grandfather Harry Wortzman in 1925, just a few years before the Great Depression. He took on a partner to help him make it through the hard times, and the business became Wortzman and Lighter. Young Harry’s father Israel joined the business after he got out of military service at the end of World War II. When the older Harry died in 1948, Israel took over. Israel bought out the partner in 1950, and the business again became Wortzman Furniture Store.
Harry went to Ithaca College, where he majored in business, then attended the University of Rochester to get his MBA. He was drafted after his first year there. In the summer of 1972, his dad got sick and Harry came to help him in the store, while finishing his second semester at the University of Rochester. He left graduate school when his father died in the fall of 1972.
Harry ran the business with his mother Shirley, until she retired in 1980.
Under its founder Harry and his son Israel, Wortzman’s carried only furniture. The current owner added carpeting more than 20 years ago and also put an addition on the back of the store, which is located at the corner of Ellicott and Liberty streets.
Harry said there are always challenges in a small business. His biggest challenge has been having to close for two and one-half months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“You never make that up,” he said. “We were fortunate to have the Paycheck Protection Plan.”
The pandemic has also caused a major problem with the supply of furniture.
“It’s been very difficult to get merchandise,” Harry said. “Some companies which were on a six- to eight-week delivery cycle are now six to eight months.”
It’s also challenging to know how much to buy, he added.
Another problem was having to close. In his 12,000 square-foot store, he said he might have four or six people, yet the big box stores were allowed to remain open. Because so many of the smaller stores had to close, people shopped on the internet, often not having to pay sales tax, yet business owners like Wortzman still have to pay their taxes.
The best part of being in business is becoming acquainted with all the different people he’s never met before, Harry said.
“They come in and make a purchase, then they come back and you become friends,” he said.
At 72, Harry has no plans to retire. His wife Paula has retired as a school teacher, but he has no exit strategy at this point, he said.
“As long as I’m healthy, I enjoy what I do and plan to be here,” he said.
Harry said his staff is what makes the store what it is today. His office manager Amy DiSalvo has been with him for more than 25 years. Kathy Hamm has been a salesperson for nearly 20 years and is semi-retired. The newest sales person is Leanna DiRiso, who had her own business, Hidden Door Gift Store, in Wortzman’s but closed it to work full time for Harry.
Harry claims to have the best delivery people one could find. Raymond Scott has been with him for 17 years, and Darryl Roberts for nearly seven. He calls Wade Geedy Jr. the greatest flooring installer.
Taking care of customers and servicing what they sell is the key to success, Harry said.
“We bend over backwards to please our customers,” he said. “You can’t please everybody, but we do the best we can. We try to keep up with styles. We do a lot of business in the surrounding areas, as well as the city. We are getting a lot of business out of Buffalo and Rochester, because of word of mouth.”
Harry also said they focus a lot of their advertising in penny savers in outlying areas, such as the Lake Country Pennysaver.
Much of their business is special orders. Their sales people will sit and help a customer design a room.
“We give much more personal service than a big box store,” Harry said.
Wortzman’s is a full service furniture store with living room, dining room and bedroom furniture; accessories, lamps, entertainment centers, accent tables and fireplace accessories.