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By Jan White
GRAPELAND – “Wall to Wall We Sell It All.”
You’ve heard the booming voice of Charley Darsey repeat this phrase for years, encouraging customers to buy locally and save money at Darsey’s Furniture. But the story behind the voice is one that you might not know.
It began in 1886 when George E. Darsey, Sr., bought out John R. Foster’s share of the dry goods store located in downtown Grapeland. The store, operating under Geo E. Darsey Dry Goods, Groceries & Furniture, sold everything from groceries to dining room tables, ladies hats and high-buttoned shoes, steamer trunks, mules, barrels of whiskey, and Huff mobiles.
Business boomed, and the store expanded. A new brick building replaced the old wooden structure. According to an old edition of the Houston County Courier, it was the first brick building in Grapeland. Additions were made to the original building. The dry goods department moved across the street next door to the Farmers and Merchants State Bank.
Things were going well for Geo E. Darsey’s Dry Goods, Groceries & Furniture. But on the night of March 4, 1913, a fire raged through downtown Grapeland, destroying fifteen businesses. Mr. Darsey himself lost six buildings. But the following day, Darsey’s was open for business, selling merchandise out of a boxcar that had been rented from the railroad.
Throughout the years, Darsey’s proved to be the definition of a ‘family business.’ Joe Darsey and J.S. Darsey worked hardware, W.G. Darsey and George E. Darsey, Jr. were office managers and cotton and produce buyers. M.E. Darsey Sr. managed the dry goods section with the help of Miss Loye Darsey, Miss Bable Boykin, Starley Boykin Sr., and Mrs. Maggie Darsey. The children and grandchildren were egg counters, sackers, and delivery boys until they were old enough to handle more responsible positions.
After graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1988, Charley H. Darsey joined his father operating the business. In 1999, the younger Charley and his wife, Tonya, purchased Darsey’s corporate assets. Under the George E. Darsey & Co. name, they sold appliances, hardware, and furniture.
After the death of Charley’s father, Charley H. and Tonya relocated the store to a showroom they owned on the Loop in Grapeland. The old iron warehouse building, built by George E. Darsey, Sr., after the fire of 1913, was used for storage. In the new location, the Darseys decided to focus on just selling mattresses and furniture. According to Tonya Darsey, the last check she wrote to Frigidaire was in 2003. The store had evolved into what it is today – a premier mattress and furniture retailer.
In May of 2009, tragedy again struck the family business. A tornado ripped off the warehouse roof, destroying the structure that had served the Darsey family for almost 100 years. The loss was heartbreaking, causing the Darseys to question whether to even continue in the furniture business. But the tenacity that had kept the Darsey legacy alive prevailed. In September of 2009, Darsey’s opened their showroom that houses 25,000 square feet of home furnishings.
This Friday, Nov. 19, Charley and Tonya Darsey, along with their family and employees, invite you to visit their store and celebrate their 135th Anniversary by taking a stroll through history. The walls are lined with photos depicting the store’s past. On display is an antique door, the name “Darsey’s Appliance Warehouse” faded but visible as a reminder of the family’s resilience. And then there’s the cash register, purchased by George E. Darsey, Sr. back in the late 1800s from the National Cash Register Company. If you’re lucky, you might get a guided tour by Charley Darsey himself, who enjoys sharing the history with anyone interested in learning about the five generations of Darseys who created the furniture dynasty.
In appreciation for past and present employees, helpers, and their families, the Darseys will host a private breakfast at 8 a.m. The doors will open to the public at the usual 9 a.m. Then, there will be a brief ceremony around noon, where Charley and several other speakers will honor the Company’s 135th Anniversary.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Darsey’s if they didn’t offer great sales on mattresses and furniture.