Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Jordan's Experience

It's Like a Furniture Store on Speed...

Despite my fully furnished apartment and dangerous oversupply of lamps (It's a problem, but I'm working on it.), Jordan's Furniture has been tempting me to check out its merchandise for ages.

In 2004, the chain opened its largest store just outside the city, in Reading, Massachusetts. In addition to traditional furniture showrooms, the Reading location also offers a 3-D IMAX, Bose home theater store, ice cream vendor, and (get this) trapeze school. The gimmick seems to be working. According to the store's website, Jordan's sells more furniture per square foot than any other US retailer. It's all pretty impressive, considering the business operated out of the back of a truck from 1918 to 1926.

The megalithic home good chain first grabbed my attention during the 2007 World Series, when president Elliot Tatelman announced his new Boston-centric promotion: a total refund on all Jordan's purchases from March 7 to April 16 if the Red Sox won. My superficial interest in baseball intensified with every crack of the bat, and as I looked on while the Red Sox did, in fact, win the series, I couldn't help but snivel at what could have been a free La-Z-Boy recliner in my living room (or a swiveling, brass reading lamp for that matter).

Tatelman tried it again in 2008, but was saved by the Ray's ALCS victory.

Despite the failed promotion, my curiosity grew when I discovered that the Jordan's in Reading offers a plethora of amusements and activities. "Jordan's Furniture: Not Just a Store, an Experience," the catchy tagline called. Who knew. It turns out the place has even made it onto Roadside America, though they favored the location in Natick.

Up until this weekend my lamp addiction and I had been able to refrain from the Jordan's "Experience," but when I read in February 4th's Improper Bostonian that the Beatle's Revolution exhibit was rolling into town, I had to go. The display was set up in recognition of the legendary rock band's arrival to the United States 45 years ago, and "Yellow Submarine" director/animator Ron Campbell was schedule to appear. If I didn't see it, what would my Beatlemania-member father say?

Fortunately, I got my hands on a car, and was saved from the treachery of a two hour ride on the MTA.

At 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the parking lot looked more like mid-morning on Black Friday. Apparently this was one experience I'd have to share with a crowd.

With a chorus of Handel's "Messiah" blasting grom overhead speakers, I walked through the store's revolving doors (appropriately sized for the mattresses and sofas patrons were supposed to be lugging out with them, though not one person did), and entered a world of oversized jelly bean flowers, fountain light shows, and pre-pubescent trapeze artists. In that moment, I forgot lamps even existed. This is not your grandmother's furniture store.

(Onlookers point their gaze to the ceiling as a student in the
TSNY Boston trapeze school
swings high above a mural of Boston's Zakim bridge.)

"It's like Vegas, but for furniture," said Jon Daly, a Boston-native who came to Jordan's with his girlfriend, Colleen Leary, just to see the Beatles exhibit.

"We've bought stuff here before," she added, "but we usually just come to see the IMAX movies."

The place was teeming with kids, most of which went from obnoxious to cute when their parents opted to cart them around in charming "Taxi" strollers provided by the store. A very large, very green, very pro-Red Sox monster loomed over the escalator leading to the "Area Rugs and Living Room" floor. A lifeless mannequin-turned-Yankee-player hung trapped in its clutches. Frank Sinatra's voice rang out over a brassy tune, perfectly synchronized to the flashing burst of lighted fountains, called Liquid Fireworks, in the distance. Patrons stopped dead in their tracks to gawk, like lost tourists in the heart of Manhattan.

(A ridiculously cute toddler hops in a ridiculously cute
stroller and goes for a ride so ridiculously cute, it should be illegal.)

The Beatles Revolution exhibit was meek by comparison. Nestled between Fuddruckers tables and a Jelly Belly kiosk, it consisted of no more than a dozen metal display racks, set up Scholastic book fair style in a 20 by 20 amoeba of open space. Prints of art and photography by the Fab4 and their closest companions hung for sale. Prices ranged from $65 for commemorative plaques, to thousands of dollars for signed pieces of psychedelic art.

Ron Campbell sat unassumingly at a poorly defined "entrance" to the exhibit. A crowd had formed around the dark oak table in front of him (on sale, 3rd floor) while he painted to caricature of a man who hadn't yet been born when the Beatles took America by storm.

(Ron Campbell shows off his artistic talent, and one
young visitor to the exhibit gets the caricature of a lifetime.)

A young boy ran through the crowd, excitedly informing his companion (and, by way of volume and projection, everyone else in the room) that he could afford to buy a photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono as they lay in their hotel bed, making sleepy statements about "Hair Peace" and "Bed Peace." The price tag? $195. The 9-year-old officially has more expendable income than I do. Moving on.

The store's IMAX was showing The Dark Night--not quite up to par with my hopes for a larger-than-life trek across the surface of Mars or the peaks of Everest--but the rest of the "Experience" was as one would expect. I ambled through room after room of discount furniture, testing out leather club chairs and Tempur-Pedic beds, and playing house with my boyfriend. I even got away without buying a lamp, though I did succumb to two giant scoops of frozen yogurt. (Worth it.)

(A photograph of Ringo Starr and one of his psychedelic designs hang
on display, while a giant green monster lives out every die-hard Sox fan's fantasy.)

And so the experience was had. The curiosity is cured, and the cat's still kicking. While it is possible to enjoy a trip to Jordan's without a need for furniture, it may not be for everyone. I happen to be easily amused (and the whole lamp-obsession thing didn't hurt). It's certainly a babysitter's dream--amusement park-like distraction for the kids with none of the expense. But unless you live close by, have a car in the city, or are suffering from a deadly case of boredom, the journey might not be worth your while.

PS- Today's warm weather was my snow-be-gone dream come true!

(The sign in front of Jordan's Furniture in Reading, MA foreshadows
all the joy and oddity that awaits visitors inside. Note: grimy snow bank
still lingers in bottom right corner, fighting the day's near-50 degree temperatures.)

Experience Jordan's for yourself, no money or furniture need required:

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Yellow Submarine, the 1968 classic animated film from Ron Campbell and the Beatles:

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