Durham furniture store started in 1946 gets new life during COVID-19 pandemic

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Durham man is reaping the rewards of taking a big risk during the pandemic.

At a time when so many small businesses are cutting back or shutting down, Jared Huffman bought one of the oldest businesses in Durham.

Huffman bought Y & J Furniture, a three-generation furniture making, repairing, restoring, upholstering, "you name it" business that started in 1946.

The Y was Madison Simeon Yarbrough Sr and the J was Elwood Johnson. Yarbrough eventually bought out Johnson and passed it down to his son, Madison Yarbrough Jr. and then his grandson, Madison Yarbrough III who ran the business until early 2020. Yarbrough III decided to sell in April, not because of the pandemic. He just decided it was time.

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"I hesitated to just come in one day and lock the doors and just say, 'Everybody you're out,'" Yarbrough explained. "After Jared (Huffman) got here I found out what kind of really good human being he is, how good he is with the customers. I knew he was the right person."

Huffman worked at Y & J two years before becoming the owner. He was very surprised at what happened when COVID-19 hit.

People spending so much time at home decided they wanted to spruce up their surroundings or had time to get items repaired or reupholstered.

"A lot of homeowners were home looking at their furniture, thinking I've got to get this done. We got really busy at that time," Huffman said.

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So busy they've hired several more people to their team, which includes two employees in their 80's. Huffman said his senior employees are the top producers and teach the younger employees their valuable work ethic and tricks of the trade.

Huffman admits it was a big risk to buy the company during a pandemic, especially with a wife, two young children and a new baby who arrived in September.

"It was a risky move, of course," Huffman said with a smile. "I didn't know how it was going to turn out. Nonetheless, you've got to take a chance at times."

Huffman always wanted to own his own business and felt the time was right. He credits the Yarbrough family for building such a loyal client base they still serve.

"It was scary at first," Huffman noted, "but as time went on we thought, 'OK, we can do this.'"
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