GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids’ identity as Furniture City has changed over the years. It started as a riverside village with a few pioneers who found a way to take advantage of West Michigan’s white pine forests. From there, it turned into an industrial town focused on home furniture and then finally, a handful of giants that turned their sights to the offices of the 20th century and beyond.

While the city has grown and taken on different monikers, Furniture City will always be a part of it. The furniture industry still shapes downtown Grand Rapids in many ways. Giant brick buildings that once hummed with the sounds of tools still stand, serving new purposes to the city’s latest residents.

Here’s a look at some of those formidable factories that defined Grand Rapids for generations and how they stand today.


A view of the north end of the John Widdicomb Co. building. It has since been renovated into office space.

John Widdicomb Co. was one of the largest furniture manufacturers in Grand Rapids at the turn of the 20th century and its massive factory on Seward Avenue NW still stands. The factory was built in 1880 and is more than 113,000 square feet. It is one of many on the northwest side that was purchased by Robert Israels and renovated as part of the city’s Renaissance Zone, which included state and local income and property tax incentives. The building now serves as an office complex and is currently home to several local businesses, including Spectrum Health.


The Berkey & Gay Furniture Co. factory is now The Boardwalk Condominiums in downtown Grand Rapids.

A company that started as one man making tables transformed into a furniture giant. Building developers claim the Monroe Avenue factory was once that largest furniture factory in the world. When construction finished in 1892, The Evening Press — now The Grand Rapids Press — hailed it as “the acme of industrial perfection.” However, not even the mighty Berkey & Gay could survive the whims of industry and by 1954, the factory was closed. The building was converted into apartments in the early 2000s and then into a condo complex known today as Boardwalk Condominiums. The condos are known for their industrial feel, including high ceilings and exposed brick that reminds residents of the building’s long history.


After working for years as a finisher and as a traveling salesman for Berkey & Gay, Charles Sligh started his own venture, shifting his attention away from West Michigan’s white pine to higher-end wood shipped in from the U.S. Northwest and even Central America. The giant Sligh factory building still stands along Century Avenue SW and is a common sight for drivers along US-131. It’s currently home to several antique stores, however the building’s future is up in the air. A holding company has submitted plans to redevelop the Sligh building along with other parts of that neighborhood. If approved, developers plan to remove the concrete addition and have the original structure added to the National Register of Historic Places. It will then be converted, along with several other nearby buildings, into housing and retail space.


The Baker Furniture building on Monroe Avenue NW started as Grand Rapids Chair Co. in 1872 before it became a subsidiary of Sligh-Lowry Furniture Co. and eventually a part of Baker Furniture. The company and its 7.2-acre property were eventually sold off and its warehouse and corporate offices in Grand Rapids were moved to North Carolina in 2006. But the building is set for a new phase of life — staying in the furniture industry. The Baker Furniture building has been purchased by MiEN Company, which designs and builds furniture for schools. MiEN Co. plans to transform part of the factory building into a mixed-use space, including residential and retail space. That includes demolishing part of the building to add more riverfront access. MiEN Co. will use the warehouse and add a fifth floor onto the office space to serve as its headquarters.


Only a handful of bones remain from one the city’s largest employers. According to research from labor historian Jeffrey Kleiman, Grand Rapids Showcase Co. held the second-highest number of employees in 1912 — 569 workers — trailing only American Seating, which employed 631 people. The factory, which hugged the railroad lines near Cottage Grove Street, between Division and Jefferson, eventually became a part of Welch-Wilmarth Corporation and then Kindel Furniture. Though Kindel remains in business, the factory on the southeast side is long gone. The only thing still standing is the factory’s large smokestack with Kindel still painted in large letters on its brick exterior.