Faces of Kingston: Donald Shumen

Donald Shumen (photo by Morgan Y. Evans)

Donald Shumen was born in 1961 and has been part of Kingston ever since. That’s a lot of expertise on our lovely and lively city. I recently had a great shopping experience at Mike’s Office Furniture at 299 South Wall St. and knew that the friendly co-owner would make a great interview for the latest installment of Faces of Kingston. 

Morgan Y. Evans: Did you grow up in different parts of the city?

Donald Shumen: Up until 16 years old I lived up above East Chester until the arterial route went through. That went right through out house, so we moved from there to the Town Of Ulster. My parents bought a house there and up until I got married that’s where I lived. My father passed away and mom lives in a retirement village now but we bought a home no more than five or six blocks from where they were. 

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Is there a place that’s no longer here that you think fondly of sometimes? I have nostalgia for the old theater by the tire place near the mall, for example. 

Most of the things that I did as a kid are no longer here. There were two drive-ins, as well as The Mayfair that you were just talking about. Just recently now we got a theater again in Kingston. My whole neighborhood from where I grew up is gone from when the road went through there. There’s been a lot of changes. The Uptown business district went away for awhile when the mall came and now the mall has kind of gone away. That’s just the way the world changes. 

How’d you get into the furniture business? 

I started refinishing antique furniture when I was 12 years old. I did yard work for a lady who had an antique shop in my neighborhood and she taught me how to strip and refinish office furniture. I did that for a long time and still do, to a degree. From there I got a job here assembling and repairing furniture and whatnot. When the previous owner passed away 25 years ago, we bought it. When I started working here, IBM was still in full swing. When it closed it ripped the heart out of the area. We still struggle with that. Different things come and go but it’s a big cycle. 

Do you rely more on loyal customers, word of mouth or online sales? 

At least two-thirds is loyal repeat customers. The larger businesses, your towns and villages and the city and county … government agencies, fire departments and state police, offices and Rotron, Ulster County Community College and ARC use us. Then we can also accommodate a little old lady looking for some furniture for her house. We don’t do business online. A lot of our business is used furniture. One of our biggest competitors is online but there’s no personal service in sending a box that you don’t know if it arrives in good shape. Our furniture is all assembled and delivered by us. 

How far a radius?

We go up to the Albany and Latham areas all the time. Over by Lake Carmel. We won’t deliver in New York City but we do go around there. 

That’s further than I thought you’d say! What are some things you enjoy doing in Kingston?

One of the things we’ve enjoyed for years was the Artist’s Soapbox Derby. It was a great thing for years and it brought a lot of people together. Those are the things we like. The Shamrock Run where you see your neighbors. The parades are nice for seeing the fire trucks and they have a lot of good things on the waterfront but it seems like they don’t even know if the Soapbox Derby has enough backing this year.

That’s sad. I remember going with my dad. 

A lot of the family-oriented things aren’t here as much anymore. Everything is franchised. Where’s a favorite family restaurant? Texas Roadhouse? I mean, my granddaughter likes the peanuts. They make a good steak, but … outside that you can’t have real Christmas shopping anymore, for example. Our mall doesn’t even have a restaurant or, hardly, stores in it. You used to have the Ground Round and other places. It’s hard to go shopping without leaving the area for families. You want to have choice for the kids and to be able to shop.

You need stores to shop (laughing). 

If you went into Macy’s when it was here if you wanted newer stuff they’d send you to Poughkeepsie or Albany because you didn’t have enough people in the door to get the product in the first place. There’s not enough of a draw for a large enterprise.