This is the third Silver Lining, an Uptown Messenger series on locally owned small businesses that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For almost five decades, Uptown Restoration has been repairing furniture at the corner of Zimpel and Cherokee streets in the University section of Uptown New Orleans.
Though off the beaten path, the repair shop does a steady business. But this year, it’s been especially busy. Not long after the lockdown in March, more customers began showing up with broken furniture and pieces that needed to be restored or refinished.
“With everyone staying at home, and many working from home, they had the time to attend to repairs they had been meaning to do for a long time,” said Uptown Restoration proprietor Bobby Franks.
For a while, Franks had to rent storage space for the backlog of furniture in the queue to be worked on. Now he is able to use part of his shop plus another space he has for that purpose.
“Things are now taking about six weeks to turn around,“ Franks said. “I’d say before the pandemic, I usually complete projects within three weeks. So with the increased business, it is taking about twice the time to finish.”
Uptown Restoration has a small staff – usually just Franks and another person, never more than two others. Although the shop is small, it has a wide sidewalk, making it easy for customers to social distance.
And due to the nature of furniture repair, Uptown Restoration was doing curbside drop off and pick up even before the pandemic. So the transition to new safety protocols was not difficult.
Nor has he had major problems with the supply chain – his supplies are not really used by the general public. But his orders now arrive more slowly than usual, he said.
Uptown Restoration has been a fixture in New Orleans for decades. “My family bought the building in the 1960s, and for the past 47 years, it has been my shop. Before that it was an Italian restaurant, an ice cream parlor and probably other businesses as well,” Franks said.
How did Franks get into the business of repairing and restoring furniture? “My father was a boat builder. He made wooden boats, so I learned the woodworking trade from him,” he said. “So naturally I gravitated to furniture – repairing and restoring antique pieces.” With so much antique furniture in New Orleans, it seemed like a natural for Franks.
And what is the most unusual or unique repair project in the time of the pandemic? Without hesitation, Franks brought up two throne chairs he is restoring for Gallier Hall.
The regular customer base has been steady during the pandemic, and there has also been a continual stream of new customers. This always has been the case, but it is surprising that it has kept up this way.
“I have been amazed that business has maintained the way it has, especially with the widespread unemployment during the pandemic,” Franks said. “But I am glad for the work and for my customers.”