Coming Back Home

Craig Upholstering
by Scott Rogers

What happens when your favorite couch or recliner—that special one reserved for lazy nights of lounging—is damaged? Like many essential services, upholstering is one that you never really think about until you need it.

Founded by Jim Craig, Craig Upholstering specializes in the repair and reupholstering of all styles of home furnishings and offers custom window coverings, cushions and pillows, and other interior design services to its clients. Currently owned and operated by the second generation of Craigs—Jim’s daughter, Cathy, and son, Mike—this family business has drawn upon the services of all 10 of Jim’s children over the years, as well as a host of cousins, nephews and nieces.

The roots of the company stretch back to Jim Craig’s service in the Marines during World War II. When he returned home from the war in 1946, Craig longed to do work with his hands—work that required real craftsmanship and skill—and began to repair furniture instead of going back to the family farm. “I think, like a lot of young guys, he didn’t know what he wanted to do,” said Cathy. “Then he just kind of found himself.”

Craig began his first upholstery job at Hershel Upholstering Company that same year, later moving on to a position at Peoria Mattress and Awning before finding a home at Cohen Furniture in downtown Peoria, where he honed his skills and became manager of the repair shop. After developing a loyal base of customers, Craig went into business for himself, founding Craig Upholstering in 1976. The company operated out of the Cohen warehouse until 1984, when, having outgrown the space, it relocated to the building at 2612 North Sheridan Road, where it remains today.

Roots in the Business
Cathy Craig recalls how her father would pick her up in his truck, and together, they would drive to a prospective customer’s home. “He would take a large book of fabric samples,” she recalled, “and look at their chair, sofa—whatever they wanted to have upholstered—and show them the samples…[Then] he would throw the chair or sofa in the back of his pick-up truck…and start tearing it down and working on it the same day.”

Such excursions illustrate how Cathy and her siblings got involved in the business at a young age. “When you’re a kid,” she remembers, “you’d come in with Dad and help sweep the floor, clean the bathroom or file stuff.” Gradually, she began to take on a larger role in the business, and after graduating from high school, she started working in the store showroom while taking classes at Illinois Central College.

Meanwhile, her brother Mike had become a skilled upholsterer himself. While Cathy took care of the front of the store, Mike worked behind the scenes, supervising and carrying out a wide range of upholstery repairs.

In 1986, Cathy got married and moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University. There, she worked at a furniture store, went to school and began raising her own family. But eventually, she felt the urge to return to central Illinois, a desire that blossomed when one of her older siblings paid her a visit, hoping to sway her to come back to the family business.

Coming Back Home
After graduating with a degree in interior design, Cathy Craig did return to resume her position at Craig Upholstering. By 2002, two of her older brothers—who had taken over the business when Jim Craig retired in 1980—were also ready to retire, and Cathy and Mike became co-owners of the shop.

Cathy has always enjoyed working with family, but with that enjoyment comes the understanding that running a family business, or any business for that matter, can be quite difficult. She observes that she never stops thinking about the business—that it is a constant force in her life, for good and for bad. “It’s different than working at a large company,” she said. “I know that this is the job I’m going to have until the day I die, and I work as hard as I can because I know I’ll get out of it as much as I put into it.”

In the long run, Cathy is looking outside of her immediate family when it comes time to retire and pass on the business. At this point, her children are not interested in continued ownership of the business, so she has turned to a longtime trusted employee, Monte Wetzel, who is in the process of becoming a partner.

While it may not always remain in her own family, Cathy stands confident in the continued prospects of the business itself, as well as the nature of their trade. “There will always be antique furniture that needs to be reupholstered,” she notes. And that’s a job that can’t be outsourced. iBi

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