RELATED: Video tour of Green Front Furniture
As one of Farmville’s largest employers, Dick Crallé takes as much pride in his Virginia hometown as he does his company, Green Front Furniture. “My family has been in Farmville for generations,” says the company president.
Green Front is a destination, bringing swarms of shoppers into town. The company is well known for its huge selection of mid- to high-quality furniture offered at discounted prices. Green Front’s 12 buildings are packed with furniture. Four of the them are old tobacco warehouses; three were department stores. “We have five buildings that are for rugs alone,” Crallé says. “The rest are dedicated to furniture and accessories.”
The store’s almost 800,000 square feet of showroom space holds a variety of merchandise from manufacturers such as Henkel Harris, Henredon and Theodore Alexander.
When Crallé was in high school he began his career working in his father’s Green Front Grocery on Main Street. He switched jobs when his father, Dick Crallé Sr., purchased the building adjacent to the grocery in 1955 and opened a small furniture store. In the mid-1960s, the younger Crallé took over the furniture store and began focusing on his discount sales strategy. “Furniture used to carry big margins, and I couldn’t fathom the reason why the margins should be what they were,” he says.
Over the years, the business has grown from three employees to 125. Crallé also has stores in Raleigh, N.C., and Manassas.
In addition to being the home of Green Front Furniture, Farmville is a college town. Longwood University, Virginia’s first state teacher-training college, is based there, and Hampden-Sydney College, a 233-year-old men’s college, is just a few miles away.
Farmville’s Main Street is filled with locally owned shops. The Sleeping Bee and the Wooden Heart, for example, offer gifts and specialty items, many from the Farmville area.
Crallé is excited about the town’s newest attraction, the High Bridge Trail Park. The park includes High Bridge, a 120-foot-high railroad bridge that the Confederate army attempted to burn during the Civil War.
History buffs appreciate Farmville’s ties to the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Must-sees include Sailor’s Creek Battlefield and Virginia’s Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. The former Robert Russa Moton High School, now a museum on the Heritage Trail, was the site of a 1951 student strike.
The town’s economy
Farmville once had a thriving manufacturing base, producing shoes and clothing. Today, the economy is fueled by the local colleges, retailers and service-oriented companies. Longwood University employs more than 500 people. Centra Southside Community Hospital has about 450 employees, and Wal-Mart provides jobs to 270 workers. Other large employers include Green Front and The Woodland, a retirement neighborhood. In addition, Farmville has three industrial parks with a variety of employers such as Tri-Boro Shelving & Partition Corp., a manufacturer of shelving and other items; UK-based Paris Ceramics USA Inc., a maker of stone flooring and stone-related products; and Southside Training Employment and Placement Services, which makes military products. This July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will complete a new facility which should employ about 200 workers.
Where to eat
Dick Crallé doesn’t have to go far to find she-crab soup. Charley’s Waterfront Café operates out of one of Green Front’s warehouse buildings along the Appomattox River. “I’ve had customers fly in and buy the restaurant out of its she-crab soup,” he says. To eat where Ty Pennington of “Extreme Home Makeover, Home Edition” dined while working on a home in Farmville, check out Walker’s Diner. The bright blue diner serves up home-style meals and specials of the day. For desserts, stop in the Riverside Café on Main Street and sample the lemon and chocolate chess pies.
Where to stay
You don’t have to be the parent of a student at Longwood to stay in the Longwood University Bed and Breakfast, formerly The Alumni House. Built in 1880, the house first served as the residence for Longwood presidents before becoming alumni offices. Each of the six bedrooms in the house is furnished with antiques. Farmville’s newest hotel is The Hampton Inn, which features a free hot breakfast, an outdoor pool and exercise facilities.