BENNINGTON — The owner of Joe’s New & Used Furniture does not keep the hours of a banker, and he does not observe most banking holidays. His store was trading on Indigenous Peoples Day and usually is open seven days a week.
“I’m here from probably 8 to 6, and I might go get a bite to eat and come back and open up again,” said Joseph Miner Sr. “You never know. If the sign’s on, I’m here.”
He sat behind a desk that faces the entrance door. An afternoon talk show played on the flat-screen television at the edge of his desk. The volume was muted.
The furniture store, which began more than 30 years ago as a center for used merchandise, is Miner’s latest commercial endeavor. He will turn 84 in January and describes himself as a restless person.
“I’ve been in everything,” he said. “I’m never satisfied.”
Miner once owned a small fleet of trucks and used his Peterbilt cabovers to haul loads up and down the East Coast. He sold new Chryslers for a dealership. He sold used cars on a lot he owned. And, for a quarter of a century, he operated a Bennington body shop.
“I got out of it when I was sick of it,” he recalled. “Twenty-five years.”
While he was running the body shop, Miner said, his hobby was buying and selling used furniture. He enjoyed most of these transactions and thought it would be the perfect activity for his next business venture.
“I said this would be easy,” Miner said. “But when you try to make a living on something, it’s not easy.”
When he opened, Miner specialized in carrying furniture produced in North Bennington by the now-defunct H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Co. He also bought and sold furniture items made elsewhere in New England. The owner called the addition of new furniture to the inventory, more than a decade ago, a financial necessity.
“You can’t give away a piece of Cushman,” Miner said. “Kids don’t want to buy used stuff. They’re into IKEA and fake wood. They put it together, and they just leave it when they move.”
The furniture store was closed for more than three months last year because of the pandemic, Miner said, and while business has recovered since he reopened, he lately has found it difficult to procure new inventory. A recent phone call to a mattress supplier in New Jersey left him frustrated.
“I ordered $2,500 worth of mattresses,” Miner said. “And he said he’ll make them for me, but I’ve got to come and get them.”
It was no deal. Miner planned to call on two other Garden State mattress makers to ask if they could produce the items and also get them to Bennington.
A man holding a cup of coffee entered the store and said he was only looking. “Howdy,” Miner said, greeting him.
An L-shaped charcoal-gray sectional was just to the front of the owner’s desk. Its Ottoman was tipped to the side, indicating the piece was not on display. It had sold, Miner explained, for the third time in the past few weeks. The first two buyers had been refunded their $1,350 when the furniture set would not fit into their homes.
“They didn’t measure before they bought it,” Miner said. “They were just impulse buying. The people who just bought it? They measured before they came in here.”
The man with the cup of coffee left the store but promised the proprietor he would return and browse some more.
Miner has operated the furniture store from three locations — North Bennington, River Street in Bennington, and, for the last few years, at 160 Benmont Ave. The store occupies Suite 1-7 in the Holden-Leonard Building. Miner, an Arlington native, has some previous commercial connections to the building.
“I worked here, part-time,” he said. “It was back in ‘61 or ‘62.”
Miner recalled that his former duties involved stamping shapes out of lengths of plastic sheeting. These pieces would then help protect new hardware when it left other factories.
“What we did here at that time,” he said, “is take the rolls of stuff that you wrapped engines in and send them to the military.”
Years later, Miner said, he would occasionally serve as a relief truck driver for a tire company that was another tenant in the old mill building.
Walking around his store on a Monday holiday that he said had the feel of a Sunday, Miner paused at a display of furniture made by Amish craftspeople in Ohio. There were tables of various sizes and all were constructed of white oak repurposed from barrels used for aging whiskey.
“I sold three or four of these last week,” Miner said, inviting a visitor to lift one of the sturdy, heavy tables. “I may just start doing this Amish stuff completely and get rid of the couches when these last ones in the store are gone.”