Between the two of them, Brenda and Tom Thompson have several decades of experience in the furniture and interior design industries under their belts.
So the married couple from western Kansas decided to put their talents together and open a consignment store, with part of the shop serving as a design studio.
The Englewood residents opened the doors to Refined Consign & Design along South University Boulevard in Centennial in January. Less than two months later, the arrival of the pandemic in Colorado forced the new business to shut down under public health orders.
“I think any time you have a business, you make all the plans that you can, but something can always come along that knocks the wind out of you,” said Tom Thompson, 78. “And you can either stay down or get back up.”
The Thompsons and their 11 employees put the shop on hold, hoping to persevere on the other side. Most of the workers weren't the sole source of income in their households, so most didn't fall into dire straits, Tom Thompson said.
“A couple of them had Social Security (income), which I had” too, Thompson said. He added: “We were just fortunate in that way.”
After waiting out the pandemic's early flurry of public restrictions, the Thompsons opened back up in May — and aside from a couple employees who decided to pursue other work, the shop brought everyone back on board. That good fortune came alongside three small businesses in the same shopping center — just off of East Dry Creek Road — that ultimately didn't reopen, said Thompson, who sympathized with those who lost jobs.
Still, he holds admiration for the businesses that can hang on in the face of ongoing economic turbulence.
“All these people who have small businesses who are getting up every day and trying to make this work — not to be maudlin about it, but they're heroes because they're not saying 'quit,' ” Thompson said. “They're saying, 'OK, I started this business, and I am going to make it work no matter what it takes.'”
In the Thompsons' case, they hope to keep building what will ideally become more than an everyday furniture store in the eyes of locals. The shop has developed some regular customers, and visitors tend to like its atmosphere, Thompson said.
“A lot of the way we treat people is why they feel that way,” Thompson said. “Brenda and I come from a small town — we had businesses in small towns. We try to create that atmosphere of a small-town store, that you are welcome and we're glad you're there, and we're friends. People like to do business with friends. And you cannot duplicate that in a big store.”
Brenda Thompson, who is in her 60s, had a design business for nearly 25 years in the Denver area, and Tom Thompson grew up in the furniture business — his father had a furniture store in western Kansas.
“Probably like any father-son thing, the last thing I wanted to do is be in the furniture business,” Thompson said. He planned to attend medical school, but around the time he graduated from college, his dad died, and he returned to help his mother in the family store for a short time.
“And that ended up being 20 years,” Thompson said. “You make plans and then life happens.”
Now, he prides himself on selling high-quality furniture at less than half of its original price — items that “most people frankly could never afford” at full cost, he said.
“That's good for the customer, and I get a kick out of it too,” Thompson said. He added: “That's fun. It's giving that furniture another life.”
As a man from a small town, Thompson notes that rural staples such as the traditional general store — or a Cracker Barrel — don't exist in the Centennial area.
“But we tried to create that atmosphere where people come in and I don't care if they buy anything — if they just want to come in and look around and have a cup of coffee,” Thompson said.
At the same time, Thompson’s wife put careful thought into the shop’s appearance, hoping visitors have a “very inspiring experience going through the store,” Brenda Thompson said.
She wants to show them how they can make “their home fresh again,” Brenda Thompson said.
The shop also hosts events where artists come and showcase their work. Tom Thompson’s artist contacts include a man who paints on Plexiglas-type material and an artist who makes flowers out of metal that she gets from road signs, Thompson said.
“It's as much a social place as it a consignment store,” he said.
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