Fierce Anticipation: Sept 4-7
a blogumn by Ryan Dixon
The Furniture Store as Theme Park Edition (with Complimentary Bonus Photos!)
Over the past decade, when dinner party chatter would turn to the topic of the best themed furniture stores in the nation, my well-worn response would always be, “Gallery Furniture in Houston is the best of course. It’s not even close.”
Like those pundits currently opining that there will never be a Senator (or President) who achieves a legacy that equals the legislative accomplishment of Ted Kennedy (R.I.P.), I was certain that I would never again walk through another furniture store that equaled the scale and invention of Texas legend Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale’s commerce masterpiece, which features an indoor water wheel, bowling alley, giant rocking chair, cafeteria, and roaming salesmen dressed in life-sized foam mattresses.
And then I went to Jordan’s Furniture.
While most would consider the mandatory stops in Salem, MA to be the various historical haunts like the House of Seven Gables and Witch Trial Memorial, I urge anyone with an appreciation of themed entertainment — that art of making the ordinary, extraordinary, of giving the gift of narrative to those institutions that previously lacked it (restaurants, parking lots, hunting supply stores, etc.) – to drive 12 miles east and enter an unparalleled wonder of the world. The only location, with the possible exception of some sheikh-owned mega hotel in Dubai, where under the same roof one can swing on the trapeze, adopt a child, buy a matching dining room set and eat ice cream, candy and a Fuddruckers burger while watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in IMAX 3-D. Like their slogan says, Jordan’s Furniture is not just a store, but an experience.
Founded in 1918 by Samuel Tatelman, the franchise grew steadily and in 1973 brothers Barry and Eliot Tatelman took over the family business and built a furniture empire. Thirty-six years later there are now four different complexes located in an around Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, each with a different theme (like “Bourbon Street!”) and unique attractions. The $2.5 million Motion Odyssey Movie (MOM) featuring Speed Racer: The Ride is a particular highlight since one can experience the best parts of that movie in fifteen minutes and not have to sit through the other two hours.
While vacationing in Boston two weeks ago, several locals, knowing my interest in all things themed, recommended that I visit Jordan’s. So, I eagerly made the trip to their Reading, MA location. Upon exiting I-95, I pulled into the parking lot and expected to live a moment straight out of Jurassic Park– I would take off my sunglasses, stand up in my car (even though it didn’t have a sun roof) and stare at this Retail Rex (as opposed to a Brachiosaurus) in awe and wonderment.
Sadly, the front façade was a letdown. If the Jordan’s Furniture logo were to be removed, it would be a Herculean task to surmise whether the giant dull grey box in front of you was a furniture theme park, Best Buy or Kohl’s.
But then, like Alice stepping though the looking glass (in this case a giant revolving door whose size rivals the one at the Times Square Toys ‘R Us), upon entering I was transported into a delirious candy colored dream world seemingly spawned from the amalgamated imagination of Sam Walton, Willy Wonka and a Ritalin-rigged adolescent.
Now come with me, boys and girls, and let’s take the tour…
Unlike many “themed” stores that attempt to attract the attention of guests with a few dilapidated attractions like a broken down merry-go-round or worn out indoor rock climbing cliff face, this “shoppertainment” Valhalla provides the guest with a proverbial all-you-can-eat buffet of sound, color and controlled chaos.
The elderly gentleman in this photo is a perfect example of Jordan’s multi-sensory environment:
While it may look to the casual observer like he is ignoring the liquid fireworks behind him and is instead enjoying the opening throes of a stroke, his senses are actually otherwise occupied by counting the number of jellybeans needed to create the giant flower in the of the photo below while at the same time watching the girl in the background swing on the trapeze.
Aside from the confectionery and Fuddruckers, Jordan’s other dining option is an ice cream shop where you can add a sugary rush of stimulation to an already sweet experience by ordering the “Beantown Dig,” a jellybean banana split that comes in a dish roughly the size of New Zealand. (I have it on good authority that their ice cream is the best in the state. While I can’t confirm this assertion, I can say with the utmost certainty that while delicious, the Green Monster / Cookies ‘N Cream mix directly contributed to the seven pounds I gained while in Massachusetts.)
For those of you without children, who yearn to clear out that old study and make room for a nursery, hope springs eternal at Jordan’s. Thanks to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, Jordan’s has a display showcasing the best and brightest of the state’s unloved and unwanted, conveniently located (especially for any lurking pedophiles) right past the amusement foyer and directly in front of the restrooms.
Even now I still get chills just thinking that over the course of a leisurely Saturday afternoon at Jordan’s one can adopt a child, purchase their bed set and grab an extra large bag of diabetes-inducing jellybeans for the adoptee as their “Welcome to the Family” gift.
But buyer beware! While the “kid catalogs” located below the display photos– the adoptlicants who speak English are in one book, those that speak only Spanish, the other—are designed to deluge any prospective parent with a flood of gauzy, heartwarming studio headshots, a closer read of each prospective “About Me” paragraph will reveal a darker truth.
Much like the “terms of agreement” for some Facebook application that fails to mention until paragraph 47.2c that upon downloading, it will have access to your bank account, only in the middle sentences of the single-spaced, (Henry) Jamesian “About Me” paragraph does it become clear that the nine-year-old with the bright eyes smiling back at you is suffering from a rare genetic disorder that makes her look like a cute little girl when in reality she’s a 33-year-old prostitute with a murder streak. Oh, wait, that was the ending of Orphan. Nevermind.
(Before we move on, it must be noted for the sake of posterity that a few moments after I took the photo above, the girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, can I have the Chinese baby?” I love it when consumerism meets altruism.)
And we’re walking. Keep walking…
No tour of Jordan’s Furniture would be complete without a stop at the Sleep Lab, which includes several rooms designed to enhance the experience of sleep testing by incorporating mood lighting, soft music wafting from the speakers…
And salesmen in lab coats:
The salesmen above threatened to have security remove me from the store if I continued to take his picture. However, in my undaunted quest to get a good picture of the lab coats, I simply roamed the store for an hour until my newly sworn archenemy took a smoke break. Then, I reentered the lab, hid behind a touch screen video display and snapped this photo of a salesman who bared a striking resemblance to Marlon Brando in The Island of Doctor Moreau. (Sadly, the balding customer in the yellow polo whose backside graces the photo looked nothing like Moreau’s primordial dwarf sidekick Majai.)
As an added bonus, the Sleep Lab is located near the ice cream and jellybean shops, so it’s a perfect place to rest once the sugar coma hits.
Even better, the IMAX theater showtimes are provided at the entrance to the Sleep Lab so you know how long to take a nap.
Speaking of IMAX, Harry Potter is about to begin. Let’s head over…
KINDA WANNA SEE
An IMAX movie at Jordan’s
There are missed opportunities in even the greatest of masterpieces and the most glaring one at Jordan’s involves, arguably, its centerpiece attraction: the IMAX 3-D theater. Instead of putting the path to the theater through a thematically complimentary area like the big screen TV section, the entrance is instead buffered by a clearance graveyard of mushy mattresses, cracked tables and blood stained bureaus (I’m joking about the blood stains, but still…). Rather than giving the moviegoer the thrill of approaching a cutting-edge theatrical experience, one has the unpleasant impression of walking through his dead grandparents’ garage.
This looks cool:
This does not. (If trailer parks had IMAX theaters, I imagine this is how it would look):
WOULDN’T BUY IT IF YOU PAID ME
An even deeper flaw that hovers over Jordan’s like the alien spaceship in District 9 is that if you removed the front foyer of fun, IMAX theater, adoption corridor and Sleep Lab, what you’d be left with is a mediocre furniture store
A visitor to Houston’s Gallery Furniture would find small ovens placed in every section, dispersing freshly baked cookies. It’s a seemingly small and fairly inexpensive design choice, but it makes the customer feel at home and encourages them to explore, not just shop — one of the keystones to good theming.
I can’t imagine anyone spending several hours roaming about Jordan’s like one would Gallery Furniture or Ikea, which takes advantage of its tight, circuitous walkways by creating designed “living spaces” to focus your attention and create the perception that there are hidden treasures just around the corner where you’ll discover something new no matter how many times you come.
Sadly, at Jordan’s, leaving the themed attractions behind and entering the belly of the beast to find that new nightstand is akin to diving off a Carnival Cruise ship and into the rusty bowels of the H.L. Hunley. It’s tight, cramped and all together unpleasant (and I was there on a weekday afternoon, pray for those souls who shop on the weekend).
But I came to praise Jordan’s, not to bury it. Ikea’s great and all, but does it employ a giant animatronic Yankee-eating Green Monster as its greeter? I think not. And for my money, that’s more than enough reason to go. Even if you’re a Yankee fan.
Thanks for visiting. We’ll see you again soon!
P.S. Did you love the blogumn? Or did my overindulgent, four-figured word, “smarty pants” essay make you want to throw up in your mouth? No matter the answer, I have good news!
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