This blog post began as an incomplete article for the then Baldwin-Wallace College Exponent in 2006. Over a decade ago, in the backwaters of Cleveland-area late night television, there appeared commercials for Norton Furniture. These commercials were spectacularly tacky, like only a homemade and locally-broadcast commercial can be. The owner/manager of the store, Marc, would be the focus of the commercial, speaking directly to the camera while some off-screen or on-screen hijinx or other odd happening was occurring in his area. The commercial that follows is a fairly representative sample.
One day in the spring of 2006, my friend Chris and I cooked up a scheme to find out what the deal was with this Marc guy. Was his voice real? Did those pieces actually exist in that furniture store? And could we really count on it?
As it turns out, we could, but that’s jumping ahead in the story a bit.
In the spring of 2006, my college career was careening off the rails a bit and I had come to the realization that I was not going to graduate on time. Instead of coming to terms with this realization and making plans for the future (full disclosure: I did finish my B.A. in the fall of 2006), I stayed up late and had anxiety-fueled idea sessions. One of these commercials grabbed me. What was this place? Was it real? It was all so… well… strange… and my white-bread brain couldn’t process it. Also, what does it mean if you can’t get credit anywhere but you can there? Anyway, Chris and I talked about this commercial and we wanted to get the inside look as to what was going on. How? How could we find out the inner workings of this place?
We would be reporters. One of us would photograph. The other would interview. We would say that we were reporters with the Exponent (we weren’t) and that we wanted to fill in the student body out in Berea on the details of this bizarre wonderland (we kinda did – but that wasn’t the point.) History was on my side here, you see.
I had previously faked being a reporter for the Exponent when I’d been a freshman. The McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball Game was being held in Cleveland and practices were being held at the gymnasium at Baldwin-Wallace.
A couple friends and I were curious about what was going on and we’d heard that Lebron James had been spotted on campus. We wanted part of that action. We wanted to meet Lebron and check out the practice sessions. First words out of my mouth:
Why don’t we say we’re from the Exponent?
Luckily, the burden of proof required from the organizers was non-existent and we were able to each procure a media pass and invitation to go to Gund Arena to meet with the players and others. We met Lebron, which was cool, and Kevin McHale, who, by the way, is one tall-ass human being. Anyway, this is all to say that, yeah, we could get away with acting like with were with some piddling college newspaper.
We drove from Berea to 2106 Payne Ave, Norton Furniture’s only location, just outside of downtown Cleveland. I was excited. Chris was excited. We had generated this ruse so that we could meet the Marc Brown from Norton Furniture! There was nothing completely and unexceptionally lame about that!
Marc was an interesting cat. Astute businessman – he’s still in business! – and his voice sounded exactly like what you heard on late-night Cleveland television. I no longer have the notes from our made up assignment, so this is all going off of memory and the pictures that I have jogging my memory. Walking in, I remember being blown away by how large the interior seemed. Floor pieces seemed to just go on and on. Marc invited us to his office to discuss business a bit and, again, this part’s been lost to me. I do remember how clear he made it that he would do business with almost anyone. Part of that belief to give people a chance when extending credit has shaped my understanding of credit since. He also invited us to take a tour of the store.
This was what we really came for. Did he have all of the crazy pieces that showed up in the commercials?
Yes. Yes, he most certainly did.
The pictures really tell the whole story. Mark with his two lamp ladies, me sitting on a couch gazing at a zebra’s rear. And they were all for sale! What kind of furniture was this? my 21-year old mind asked in wonder. Was this for real?
It was incredibly for real, very much unlike the article I was going to write for the Exponent. What a shame, too, because so many of those memories could have been better documented. But the article didn’t happen.
But at least we’ve got the pictures.