A look back through time as Stickley celebrates 50 years of Audi family ownership

HIGH POINT – More than 80 Stickley dealers and company staff members were at the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame during High Point Market, celebrating 50 years of Audi family ownership.

Edward and Aminy Audi surrounded by dealers and Stickley staff at the Hall of Fame.

Aminy Audi, Stickley CEO and chair, bought the struggling, 25-employee company with her late husband Alfred in 1974. At the time, Stickley had annual sales that barely surpassed $200,000 and was rapidly losing the customers it had left.

Today, some 50 years later, the company employs 1,600 people and operates three manufacturing plants and 15 showrooms. Its legacy as a high-craftsmanship American-made furniture manufacturer is sealed in time.

Here’s a look back at Stickley’s rich history, told in a blog post by Stickley copy editor Darcy Smith:

In 1974, Alfred and Aminy Audi became the new owners of L.&J.G. Stickley, beginning a 50-year journey that included reviving the struggling company and helping shape a renaissance of Arts & Crafts furniture in America.

Leopold Stickley had been leading the furniture business he founded for 56 years and had achieved a position of great respect in the industry. The pinnacle of his career came that very year, 1956, when editors from 10 venerated magazines proclaimed him “Revered Dean of Cabinetmakers” for his lifelong contributions to the American home. Just a year later, Leopold Stickley died at the age of 88.

After his death, his widow, Louise Stickley, was left on her own to run the business. This wasn’t a responsibility she was fully prepared for. For the first few years, a backlog of orders kept money coming in, but soon business slowed, and her knowledgeable, longtime craftsmen started to retire. Dealers began to lose confidence and step away. By the early 1970s, debts were piling up, and the company was a shadow of its former self.

Leopold and Louise Stickley (middle two, sitting) with E.J. Audi over Leopold’s right shoulder.

E.J. Audi Fine Furniture in New York City was one of the dealers that stuck by Stickley even as times got tough. E.J. Audi had opened his store in Manhattan in 1928, and over the decades he nurtured strong relationships with the high-end American brands he sold; this included a long, rewarding friendship with Leopold Stickley. Mr. Audi’s son, Alfred, (who had grown up in a Stickley bed) came to share his father’s passion for exceptionally well-crafted furniture, and for Stickley in particular; he joined the family business as a young man and later succeeded his father as President.

L & J.G. Stickley changes hands

For Louise Stickley, difficulties came to a head in 1974, when she was faced with either selling the Stickley business or closing it for good. She was unimpressed with the potential buyers and feared for what would become of her husband’s beloved brand.

But she knew of one person she could trust. In an exchange that has gone down in company lore, she phoned Alfred Audi in New York and said, “Alfred, you are the only one who loves Stickley enough to keep its quality. Will you buy it?” As Mrs. Audi describes it, “I remember Alfred saying, ‘Oh, would I! It would be a dream come true if only I can afford it.’ Being the eternal optimist, I said, ‘Of course you can.’”

In 1974, the company had shrunk to 25 employees and yearly sales of $235,000. Although not entirely sure of the enormous task that lay ahead of them, Alfred and Aminy Audi purchased L.&J.G. Stickley and set about getting it back on its feet.

A new family in Fayetteville

The Audis came to Fayetteville, N.Y., for what they thought would be a six-month stay, after which they would hire someone to run the plant. But as Mrs. Audi recalls, they soon realized that “it would take every ounce of energy we both had.”

They made the decision to relocate their family permanently to Central New York, investing not only in the business, but (also) in the community that was its home for so many years. Among the many challenges that faced them was to convince dealers to take a chance on them, and to convince their employees as well; Alfred famously promised the workers, “If you stick with me, I’ll stick with you, and we’re going to make this place move.”

Veteran and retired craftsmen were called upon for a program to train new employees, while the Audis scrambled to find capital for inventory and supplies, with Aminy occasionally raiding her own dressers for hardware for a piece that needed to ship. And it was Alfred who rose early each day to stoke the factory’s boiler before the workers arrived.

Alfred and Aminy

The hard work continued, but in just a few short years there was evidence that it was paying off. Staffing and production had increased, new dealers were engaged and some old ones returned, and orders poured in from Stickley’s loyal and patient customers. Later, in 1981, the original Fayetteville factory was expanded to accommodate this new growth.

Congressman James Hanley had paid a visit to the factory and was deeply impressed with the Audis achievement in reviving the languishing company. He paid tribute to this success on the floor of the House on September 15, 1977, entering it in the Congressional Record:

Mr. Speaker, I want to call your attention and the attention of my colleagues to a story with two happy endings, both to the benefit of the American consumer. A story about the revitalization of an American manufacturer and the restoration of a tradition of quality, unmatched in its field.

It was a remarkable moment for Stickley’s young second family, and just the first of many to come.

See more from Darcy Smith on Stickley here.

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