Remember When, Chattanooga? One of South’s largest furniture stores burned in 1963

Chattanooga News-Free Press file photo / The Furniture City store on Rossville Boulevard was one of the biggest of its kind in the South.
Chattanooga News-Free Press file photo / The Furniture City store on Rossville Boulevard was one of the biggest of its kind in the South.

In the early 1960s, the Furniture City store on Rossville Boulevard was billed as the "South's Largest" single floor of home furnishings.

Located near the intersection of Rossville Boulevard and 23rd Street, the store was said to have contained "2.5 acres of furniture on one floor."

Only three years after it opened the furniture store was destroyed in a shopping center fire that also consumed Big-Star Food Discount Center, Manufacturers' Outlet Center and a clothing store, according to news reports.

The Chattanooga News-Free Press and the Chattanooga Daily Times both reported that a massive fire on the evening of Friday. June 7, 1963, consumed the shopping center in about an hour. News reports indicate that about half of the city's fire-fighting force rushed to the scene at 2398 Rossville Blvd.

"The fire spread so fast that firemen could not battle it strategically," the News-Free Press reported.

Flames spread so quickly that a night watchman had to be pulled out of the building through a broken window, the newspaper said.

The store, founded by Albert (Ab) E. Jernigan, one of the area's best-known mid-century furniture entrepreneurs, was apparently opened in 1960 offering furniture and appliances at up to 50% off retail prices. Print ads said the store offered "new, supermarket-style" shopping.

A sale for the one-year anniversary of the store in 1961 offered an early-American sofa and chair set for $124, an antique white French Provincial bedroom set for $159 and a pillow-back recliner for $39. Customers were offered easy terms, with up to three years to pay. By 1962, Jernigan had opened a companion store in Brainerd Village.

Less than a month before the fire in 1963, the Rossville Boulevard store hosted a beauty pageant with 12 young women vying for $1,000 in free furniture, according to news reports.

Jernigan died in 1981 at age 69. His family continued in the furniture business locally.

The photo is part of collection of vintage images at chattanoogahistory.com. Follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

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