Sam Ramsey, right, and Tony Ramsey are continuing the 95-year family tradition of keeping Ramsey Furniture in the family, for which the store will receive a commemorative paver on its front sidewalk. (Staff Photo: Wade Marbaugh)
COVINGTON—Covington City Councilwoman Janet Goodman had an idea. The city should add commemorative pavers on the sidewalks in front of businesses on the Square that have remained in the family for more than 50 years.
The City Council voted last week to do just that.
“In a time when the economy is low and the tensions are high, it is good to say thank you to those who thought enough of our community to hang in there,” Goodman said.
One of those businesses, Ramsey Furniture, has been in operation for 95 years.
Sam Ramsey’s grandfather, C.D. Ramsey, started Ramsey Furniture, the renowned Clark Street store, in 1919. A farmer and cotton dealer by trade, he turned the business over to his son, C.D. Ramsey Jr., in 1922.
Sam Ramsey, was born to C.D. Jr. and Mary Francis Cowan Ramsey in 1938.
Ramsey recalled during an interview with the Citizen on Friday that his father, also a farmer, was told by a doctor in 1950, “You either have to get rid of the farm or get rid of the store, or they’re going to get rid of you.”
C.D. Ramsey Jr. chose the farm, but was concerned about the nine families that lived on the land and worked it as hired hands. Not wishing to put them off, he wouldn’t sell it until he found someone, a dairy farmer, who allowed the families to continue living and working there.
That may best exemplify the family business ethic that has continued through the years. The store and the Ramsey family are community-minded.
The Ramseys go way back in Newton County. Sam’s great-great-great grandfather, George Cunningham, was among the first settlers in the county. In 1928 the Cunninghams attended the first Salem Camp Meeting, now an annual interdemoniational gathering at Salem Campground off Salem Road.
Sam Ramsey has been a trustee and program chairman for the Camp Meeting for 50 years.
Ramsey serves the community in many ways. For example, he’s worked to keep the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter going after state and federal funds dried up five years ago.
Near the sales counter at Ramsey Furniture, a stack of “Expand Your Heart” CDs rests on a light-grained inlaid hall table. The sign reads, “Donation helps the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter here in Covington.”
Ramsey’s wife, Rebecca, plays organ at First Methodist Church, and her identical twin, Alice, is organist at First Presbyterian Church. They are giving a concert on Sept. 28 at First Methodist Church.
Sam Ramsey said that from age 12 on he spent most of his time at the store after school. He began selling records at the store, a lucrative business for a teenager then.
A week before Christmas in 1958 he drove to Atlanta to buy 500 records of “The Chipmunk Song,” which was soaring on the charts. His father, C.D. Jr., was very skeptical about the purchase.
Sam sold all 500 records before Christmas Eve.
“I had the best time kidding my daddy about that,” Ramsey recalled. “I told him, ‘I should’ve bought 750.’”
Ramsey took over the store after graduating from Emory at Oxford and Emory University with a business degree and serving three years in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1960s. Since then he’s seen times change.
“The furniture business has changed a lot,” said Ramsey, shaking his head. “The big manufacturing used to be all made in America. It was a Southern industry, owned by Southerners.”
Now, he says, most of the bedroom and dining furniture is made overseas. But much upholstered furniture is still made in the U.S.
Another problem today, Ramsey noted, is too often business ethics are questionable. He said he advises buyers to beware of discount prices.
“I can’t look someone in the face and say it’s 25 percent off after I jacked up the price 25 percent and then discounted it 25 percent,” he said.
“That’s the reason we’ve lasted for 95 years,” Ramsey said. “People know they can trust us.”
Sales Clerk Connie Ryan offered an example of another change in the business – technology.
“Today I helped a couple furnish their apartment and it was all done online,” Ryan said. “They live in Tennessee and are moving here to help her mother, who has cancer.”
Beginning last Tuesday, Ryan sent pictures of furniture to the couple until they found what they wanted. On Friday the customers moved to Covington, driving from Tennessee, sealed the deal, and the furniture was delivered to their apartment that day.
“It was enjoyable for me to find what they were looking for according to their budget,” she said.
Ryan noted that the wife’s parents had shopped at Ramsey’s when she was a girl.
“That says a lot about the company I work for, when customers come back,” Ryan said. “It leaves a mark, the personal service and quality. That’s what we’re all about.”
She said the store is a great place to work.
“I always try to treat my help like I like to be treated,” Ramsey said.
It appears the store will continue to remain in the family after Sam retires. Tony Ramsey, son of Sam’s cousin, Jimmy, is beginning his 18th year working at the store. How did Tony come upon the job?
“We were talking and eating ice cream on the back porch at the Salem Camp Meeting. I was trying to get out of the rat race in Atlanta, and he needed help. It’s been a real good place for my wife, Kimberly, and I to raise our girls (Rachel and Taylor, both now attending the University of Georgia).”
He added, “I’ve been here long enough that some of the children of my first customers are buying furniture here.”