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Despite being very much his own man and being named ‘Stu’, he operated a business named ‘Harold’s’ for decades. Sometimes when we’re true to ourselves, we inadvertently pay the greatest tribute possible to our parents.
By following in his father’s footsteps, Stu Perlmutter very much left his own mark on the Lebanon community.
Perlmutter is out of business now. But he is far from broke – mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
Not only does he have a lot in the bank, he’s got a lot left in the tank.
“When we moved into the last store, I remember asking my mom if my grandfather would be proud of me,” said Perlmutter, a third-generation furniture entrepreneur. “I never really thought about if he (his father) would be proud of me. We always got along. Sometimes we would disagree, and now when I look back on those times, he was right.
“You couldn’t do ‘Perlmutter’s Furniture’,” Perlumtter continued. “He became ‘Mr. Harold’, and people started to call me ‘Mr. Harold’. I’m outgoing, and so was my father. People tell me I’m like my father.”
Perlmutter closed the third Harold’s Furniture location in Lebanon, at 2500 West Cumberland Street, in June. A month later, he closed his furniture warehouse next door.
While the reasons for the closure were mainly financial in nature—the result of a changing furniture climate that was out of his hands—it didn’t make Perlmutter’s decision any easier.
“It was very difficult,” said Perlmutter, 71. “I’m a third-generation furniture salesman. There were a lot of emotions involved. I don’t like to talk about it. I get a tear in my eye when I do. But I felt it was time.
“Brick-and-mortar is difficult today,” continued Perlmutter. “It became a fashion business, fashion-oriented. There became less manufacturers, because a lot of things were being made overseas. In ’03, there was a big shift. They became shippers, not manufacturers.”
After being a staple of a thriving downtown Lebanon business district for 46 years, Perlmutter moved Harold’s Furniture west on Route 422 to its final location in 2005. All told, Harold’s Furniture did business in Lebanon for more than 60 years.
“When town started tanking, we moved out to where we are now,” said Perlmutter. “All of our locations were on Cumberland Street, or the concept of being on ‘the main drag’. I think the beginning of the end of downtown was when Cumberland Street went one way.
Read more: Why Cumberland Street is one-way, and why it’s unlikely to change
“I couldn’t make it downtown,” Perlmutter continued. “It was going on for a long time. Too long. Probably around 2000, I realized ‘this isn’t working’. No, I don’t think I have any regrets. I got to try it. I got to be on the highway. It was a lot of fun. I got to be creative. There are no national furniture chains. It’s all mom-and-pops. You could run your own show.”
Harold’s Furniture was first established in Lebanon in 1959 at 707 Cumberland Street.
Twenty years later, the Perlumutters moved their successful venture to 618 Cumberland Street.
In 1985, Stu purchased the business from Harold, when he was 37 and his father was 74.
“I worked for him for nine years, but he treated me well,” said Perlumtter. “I could’ve gone either way (out on his own or purchased the family business). I guess I bought it because I had all those years invested in it and because he was my dad. One time he said to me, ‘Stu, we spent all those years together and we built the business together.’ I guess when he looked back on it, that’s how he saw it. He was a great person. Everyone liked him.
“My father was kind to me,” Perlmutter added. “He worked until he was 81, full-time for six days a week. He worked for six years, after he sold it to me. I could’ve waited until he passed away, but I felt like he left me buy it. We had talked about it for a year before it happened.”
Perlmutter’s grandparents migrated to this country from Europe around the turn of the 20th-century and his grandfather operated a furniture store in Norristown. After being discharged from the army following World War II, Harold Perlmutter came to Lebanon in 1946 and worked in a furniture store for 13 years before founding his own business.
“The notion was you couldn’t get into Market Street (in Philadelphia), but you could in a small town like Lebanon,” said Perlmutter. “He came out here cold. He came out here on a train and went up and down streets looking for retail spots. This was when Cumberland Street in Lebanon was like Fifth Avenue.
“I grew up there as a kid,” Perlmutter added. “When I was in high school, over the summers, and I liked it. My mom would drop me off at the store.”
Whether it was nature or nurture, Perlmutter inherited his out-going personality and his customer-first approach from his father. He also embraced the idea of controlling his own fortunes, another thing that was passed on to him by Harold.
“I’ve always been a people person,” said Perlmutter. “You build a rapport with people. I always looked at my suppliers as partners. But it’s about the customers.
“I went to the Pennsylvania Military College, which was a private school,” continued Perlmutter. “I really grew there, and learned how to walk and talk and act. I became an officer. I was handling 50 people a month, and leading. I came out of that with a whole different skill set. When you’re in the army and you go to a mess hall, your men eat first and you eat last. You put your men ahead of yourself.”
There isn’t much Perlmutter would change about his journey. Perhaps his only regret is that there won’t be a fourth-generation of furniture proprietors.
“My dad was his own man,” said Perlmutter. “I remember when I was eight-years-old, my mom told me he had to have his own furniture store because he wanted to control his own destiny. He didn’t want to get too big because he didn’t want to fail. In that way, I think I followed in his footsteps. I wanted to be my own man.”
For Perlmutter, that pursuit continues today. He is currently trying to wrap his head around a present and a future that doesn’t include the furniture business.
He has already honored his past.
“Yeah, I have to work,” said Perlmutter. “I’m 71 and my dad worked ten years longer than that. But the future is not defined yet. I have a hobby of toy trains. I want to go to shows, and buy and sell and collect. I’ve been working on a book. And I’ve been asked to be on the wholesale end of furniture sales.”
So what’s in a name?