A Family Thing

The Shipleys Build a Lasting Legacy

Not too long ago, things were simpler. Cars moved a little slower. TVs were hushed, their screens blurred. People stopped to chat with neighbors and exchanged smiles with passerby. And there was a distinct pride in a profession, in the ability to create a lasting legacy for generations of your own descendants to build their lives upon.

Times may have changed, but in Asheville there are still a few folks who hold onto those tenets of integrity. One such family? The Shipleys of Shipley’s Ethan Allen.

Bruce Shipley, the patriarch of the current Shipley clan, remembers when his father Harold first began the Shipley empire 72 years ago in 1944. “Talk about a difference in business!” he notes. When the Shipleys opened their furniture store in downtown Asheville all those years ago, they carried a variety of furniture lines. Over the years, the highway expansion pushed them west, and Ethan Allen’s success drove them into design. “We think we found our niche, which was the design business, to include all the major aspects of decorating a home,” says Bruce.

Bruce has since passed on the torch to his son Stuart, and Stuart in turn has brought his own son, John, into the family business. That makes the Shipley company four generations deep—a feat in a modern age when kids are eager to make their own way, and adults are reluctant to embark on now-precarious business projects. “If you can go past two generations, you’re the exception rather than the rule,” says Bruce, his voice flush with a quiet and humble pride.

“You don’t see it a whole lot, for sure,” Stuart adds. “Especially with kids wanting to do something different or get away.” It’s something he understands; Stuart himself considered leaving the family field after college—but not for long. “I ended up coming back, and that ended up being a good decision. I do have a few friends [in Asheville] who are part of family businesses, but it’s still kind of rare.”

Although Asheville is spotted with legacied endeavors, the Shipleys are aware of just how special their family is. “When there were more private dealers, a few of them were father-son, but there aren’t that many left. We may be the only four generation Ethan Allen business,” notes Stuart.

The Shipleys aren’t just unique because of the depth of their legacy, but because of the length of their position as an Ethan Allen dealer. When Harold began selling the Colonial-style furniture line in the ‘50s, he was one of the first to do so. And in the ‘80s they converted their entire enterprise into Ethan Allen only. Now they’re one of the few privately–owned Ethan Allen stores left. “Most stores now are corporately owned, whereas when I came in it was three to one privately owned,” says Stuart. “We may be the oldest Ethan Allen dealer—definitely one of the oldest.”

Working side by side with your close relatives does have its trials. “It can be challenging, working with your parent every day,” Stuart says with a smile. “I know when I started working for my dad, we became a lot closer— even though we had a lot of work arguments. He told me it was fine for me to voice my opinion, but he’d have the final say.” It’s a position John has begun to understand in his recent years working in the store.

But it’s not all about business for the Shipleys; working with such close family members, they also know when to let loose. Bruce retired a few years ago and rarely makes it into the store these days, but he’s certainly missed. “When he quit it cut down on my golf considerably,” Stuart laughs. Because this may be a business, but it’s a family business—which means knowing when to take the afternoon off to get out on the course.

The Shipleys have created a multi–generational legacy to be proud of, but even more than that, they’ve embraced what it means to be family—and that’s a lesson that’s as applicable today as it was in those slower times, back before the highway, all those years ago.