Harper's Carpet closure marks end of an era

In almost 35 years of running Harper's Carpet, John Harper's business motto never changed.

"My father-in-law said 'If you sell good products at a fair price, and you do what you tell customers you're going to do, you can be successful,'" John Harper said. "Its amazing how as much as things change over time, they don't really change."

A staple of West Point commerce since 1982, Harper's Carpet is now in the process of closing. On Monday, rugs and carpets were stacked in neat piles, decorations sat in boxes in a corner and a sign reading "yard sale inside" was displayed on the lawn. The building on 14th Street is now listed for sale.

The business has stopped taking orders and is selling remaining products in stock. At the end of the year, accountants will finalize the business's finances and John and Eleanor Harper will close the door on Harper's Carpet.

"It's time for me to retire," John Harper, 64, said. "I gave my time. I want to wake up in the morning and ask 'what am I going to do today?'"

A strong start

John Harper has single handedly run the flooring business since he was 30 years old. He taught health and physical education at West Point Public Schools for a few years in the 1970s, but changed paths and starting working at his father-in-law's business, O'Connor Furniture.

O'Connor Furniture, owned by James O'Connor and located at King William Avenue and 15th Street, closed a few months after John Harper opened Harper's Carpet. When O'Connor retired, John Harper took on some of O'Connor's products.

Offering some of the furniture and bedding products that O'Connor had sold, helped direct some of O'Connor's customer base to Harper's Carpet, John Harper said. Having an already-established customer base was instrumental in the business's early success, he said.

"We figured we'd sell some of the catalog furniture (O'Connor sold) for a while, but flooring sales took off right away," John Harper said. "We ended up dropping the furniture and bedding pretty quickly."

The Harper's Carpet building is also located in a prime spot for business, said realtor Teresa Gildewell, of Thrift Realty of West Point. Thrift Realty is selling the building for $199,950.

"The location is phenomenal, as that part of Route 33 gets a huge influx of traffic daily," Glidewell said. "During the summer months, it grows tremendously."

Survival

Over the years, John Harper said he has had to compete more and more with big box stores for business. As people opt for more do-it-yourself projects and the cheapest prices, big box stores like Lowe's and the Home Depot are becoming the primary choice, he said.

"There are fewer and fewer mom and pop businesses now," he said. "The big stores never talk about customer service or the array of products they offer; it's always about their lowest price."

Although competing with big box stores has become an increasing challenge, John Harper said financial struggles are not a factor in the closure of his business. Over the years, Harper's Carpet has survived several recessions, he said, including the most recent in 2008.

"You learn how to plan for the hard times and get through them," he said. "Then when you get out of them, you know things will get better."

Running a small business isn't easy, but Harper's Carpet survived the hard times, John Harper's wife, Eleanor Harper said.

Retirement

Eleanor Harper retired from teaching at Middlesex County Public Schools at the end of 2015, and now her husband is following suit.

"I'm excited to both be retired," she said. "I want to travel places we haven't been before and play golf."

Eleanor Harper, who is also 64, said she and her husband have made a list of places they would like to visit, including national parks, Alaska, England and California. John Harper also said he plans to address some long-overdue projects, explore new hobbies and visit grandchildren in North Carolina now that he's retired.

"I might try out a hobby and decide I hate it, or I might find that I love it," he said. "I can't know until I try."

Eleanor Harper said that some customers have called the couple after hearing the business was closing.

"We got one of those calls this morning," she said on Monday. "They tell us they're sorry we're closing."

John Harper credits the business's long-term success to a faithful customer base.

"I just want everyone to know how appreciative the O'Connor and Harper family are of our customers," he said. "Our success is a sole function of their willingness to buy from us."

Fearing can be reached by phone at 757-298-5838.

What's next?

What's happening:

Harper's Carpet is closing after 34 years in business.

Where's the business:

535 14th St., West Point, Va.

When does it close:

Harper's Carpet is officially closed to new orders, but is still selling the remaining products in stock at the store. The Harpers will host small yard sales until most products are gone.

What does the owner plan to do next:

John and Eleanor Harper are now retired and plan to travel, pick up new hobbies and relax together.

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