Clint Allen Knowles has been in the furniture business for precisely 80 percent of his life.
His store, Al’s Furniture, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer; Knowles is only 50. As Denton’s oldest independent family-owned furniture shop, Al’s boasts a staying power rarely seen in today’s economy. It’s 40 years down, Knowles said, hopefully another 40 to go.
Knowles attributes the store’s longevity to his family’s tight-knit bond. His parents, Al and Linda, opened the store in 1979, and it’s been all hands on deck ever since. Knowles started selling furniture when he was just 13 years old. Plus, he came up with the idea for the beanbags — a longtime staple of the McKinney Street storefront.
Back in the ’80s, Knowles convinced his father that selling colorful beanbags would be a profitable hit. He was right. The trend skyrocketed, with some people buying them “10 at a time,” Knowles said.
Even though the fad has since fizzled, Knowles still proudly displays colorful beanbags in the showroom windows as a nod to yesteryear.
“It’s kind of like an old friend,” he said. “You don’t want to get rid of them. But that’s how we’re remembered: as ‘The Beanbag Store.’”
Knowles father died in 2005, leaving him and his mom with store. When she died in 2011, Knowles took the reins. He co-owned the store for a time with his sister, Codi, before she and her husband moved out of state in 2017. Though Knowles is now the sole owner, he gets by with help from his best friend Michael Wallace, who works the floor.
“Family gets kind of thick around here sometimes,” Knowles said. “We’ve had our spats and our disagreements over the years, but you wouldn’t change it.”
Entire generations of Denton residents have shopped at Al’s, Knowles said, a trend that he hopes will continue. “My parents used to shop here” is a refrain heard regularly in the store’s showroom, he said. Last week, Knowles even discovered that his barber made his very first credit card purchase at Al’s.
Knowles’ father loved jigsaw puzzles, and the family would bond over solving them together. Upward of a thousand jigsaws once lined the walls of Al’s, a feat that Knowles said earned the family a write-up in the Denton Record-Chronicle. He still likes to solve puzzles at home because it helps him relax, he said.
On a couple of occasions, Knowles and his parents pulled all-nighters at the store after vandals broke in. Together, the Knowles family would guard the remaining merchandise until the sun came up and handymen could replace the windows.
“Thankfully that hasn’t happened in years,” he said with a laugh.
Over time, other furniture crazes have waxed and waned. Knowles remembers when futons were all the rage. Then came velvet couches and next it was waterbeds. Now it’s adjustable mattresses, or what Knowles drily calls “glorified air mattresses.”
But Knowles’ current favorite? Electronically powered reclining sofas. He’s got a couple of them at home.
Knowles said Al’s Furniture has been able to hang tough during economic troughs, but lately it’s been hard. Over the last five years or so, Knowles has noticed an uptick in online shopping. Even hefty, high-ticket items like furniture can be purchased with the click of a button.
“It doesn’t help our local economy when [consumers] buy things on the internet,” he said. “I don’t really blame the customer, but it kills our business.”
Even though Al’s Furniture is one of the few retail stores on East McKinney Street, Knowles said he’s never wanted to move. His business gets a fair amount of foot traffic because of its location on a busy road, he said. The area is seeing a surge in interest, he added, with new apartment and office buildings beginning to crop up.
While he hopes to keep the family business going, Knowles said fiscal success isn’t everything. To him, family trumps all.
Knowles spends as much time as he can at home with his wife, Rachel, and their son Allen James, known as A.J., and daughter Sadie. And while he said he’d be happy if one of the kids wanted to run the family business someday, he also hopes they go to college.
Either way, Knowles and Wallace will keep plugging away, selling affordable furniture to friendly faces. For Knowles, it’s the best way to honor his parents’ memory.
“I love what I do and I’d like to stay here a long time,” he said. “My parents’ legacy is alive as long as Al’s Furniture is open.”