There’s more to PHASE Furnishings than just furniture

Christopher works on a project at the PHASE Furnishings workshop. Photo by Judy Lawhon.

Walking through the PHASE furniture store, a customer would see beautiful furniture at reasonable prices. What they would not see is the creativeness, skill and pride that go into making that furniture.

The furniture store came about because when the organization moved to their new PHASE South site two years ago, the former building owner left some boxes behind that contained unassembled furniture. Some of the consumers wanted to see what was in the boxes. Two hours later they had put together several “super nice” dining room tables. “The idea for the furniture store was born,” PHASE Executive Director Timothy Schmutzer said.

Pine Habilitation and Supported Employment, Inc., or PHASE, is in its 41st year of providing employment opportunities for adults, referred to as consumers, facing developmental and physical challenges in their lives ages 18-70 through services delivered with an emphasis on individualized supports.

“In today’s economy, organizations like PHASE cannot rely on just outside sources for funding,” Schmutzer said. “That’s why we have to develop internal ways to help us keep going.”

PHASE consumers construct the furniture store under the supervision of Chris Scott. The team unloads the semis, builds the furniture, cleans the store and operates the computerized cash register when customers purchase an item.

“This is not a second hand store,” Schmutzer emphasized. “This is high quality merchandise.”

He said Scott is the brains and work behind PHASE furnishings production. It is amazing to watch the consumers when a truck arrives, anytime of the day or evening. They are right there to unload it and anxious to see what is in the boxes. It has given them a sense of pride and behavior issues have dissipated as production has grown.

The consumers use all of the saws, drills and any other tools needed to assemble the furniture. “They love to learn the tools,” Scott said. “They like to learn everything. Many times there are no instructions or the boxes do not contain all of the hardware, bolts and screws are missing. They figure out how to fix it. ”

This is when creativity comes into play. The consumers have cut out, stained and finished beautiful new tops for desks that had none. They have built arms for chairs which had none. They have fixed broken doors and drawers. They built a frame for a couch. And all of it is very professional and very beautiful. They can turn a dresser missing a drawer into a lovely table.

“The consumers love to tell customers, ‘I made that’,” Store Manager Gina Pettie said. “Inventory is always changing.”

The furniture comes from places such as Target and Ashley Furniture and other furniture outlets. “We get truckloads of overstock,” Schmutzer said.

There are more than 260 consumers and staff at PHASE. Each of the consumers receives a wage. “It’s important for the community to know that this facility supports people with high needs who a decade ago would have been in a state institution,” Schmutzer said. “It’s less expense for the taxpayer and adds to the tax base.”

One hundred percent of the money taken in stays with PHASE. Barb Schmidt is PHASE Operations Director in charge of the facility. “More sales, more jobs, more opportunities,” she said. “The busier we are, the more we can employ.”

The furniture store, located at PHASE South, is off of Highway 61 north of Pine City and is open on Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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