In 1936, Fred Conwill started a furniture store not quite like any other. Instead of shipping a couch that was the wrong color or fabric back to the plant (often on the East Coast), Conwill’s store would take the couch and find an eager buyer, happy to have quality furniture at a bargain.
That was the basis for Tradeway Furniture – obtain surplus furniture and related items and offer them to buyers who didn’t care about the color, fabric, or a slight defect.
“A lot of this building is surplus materials,” explains Marsha Conwill, referring to the original El Cerrito store at 10860 San Pablo Avenue. (A second store, located at 350 Carlson Boulevard in Richmond, opened in 1968. Both stores are still in operation.)
Fred Conwill’s vision took on a new meaning as the United States became embroiled in World War II. Suddenly, throngs of people were arriving to work in the shipyards. They needed a place to stay and mattresses to sleep on and other furnishings.
But with the beginning of rationing, many items were impossible to find, or extremely expensive if they were available. “From the way he [Fred Conwill] described it, he would sell mattresses, because people were begging for that, for places to stay,” Marsha Conwill explains.
Today, the store serves the greater Bay Area, providing high quality furniture and related items at discounted prices. But if you’re thinking “cheap furniture,” this isn’t the place. Quality is very high, and the store has garnered a reputation for offering very high quality goods at significant discounts. “If people know what they’re buying, the savings are huge,” Conwill adds.
In addition to bargain hunters, however, the store also is a wonderful treasure hunt. “We never know what is coming in. It could be a truckload, or it could be one or two pieces.”
While the store does offer goods that have been damaged, Conwill says, “In 90 per cent of the cases, you wouldn’t see the damage because it is so slight. Or, it wasn’t the exact color match, or it was a misshipment,” she notes.
As an example, Conwill says that they often receive furniture after it has been on display at the San Francisco Furniture Mart for one of the facility’s twice-yearly shows to industry insiders. “It’s out of the crate, and they don’t want to recrate it,” she says, so they send the furniture to the store run by her and her husband, Joe Conwill. (Her father-in-law, founder Fred Conwill, has passed away. He did, however, work in the stores well into his 90s.)
Like a standard furniture store, Tradeway Furniture can deliver, with a delivery area roughly spanning from Novato in Marin County, Vacaville to the north, Pleasanton to the east, and San Leandro to the south. Depending on a customer’s location and the amount of money spent, delivery may be free of charge.
In these days of environmental consciousness and a commitment to creative reuse, Tradeway Furniture has now found itself with new customers, who are eager to use what is already here, enjoy finding undiscovered items, and don’t mind saving money, either.
Call 510-529-2360 for additional information about Tradeway Furniture.