For the Vestal community, it will mark the end of an era. For Sandy Pease Snyder, it feels like a death in the family.
Pease Furniture, 4201 Martin Mill Pike, is closing its doors. No more sofas, recliners or dining-room sets. Everything must go, as they say, and by the middle of August.
The iconic store has been the largest business in downtown Vestal for nearly 90 years and in its heyday was one of the top furniture and appliance stores in the region.
But when Sandy and husband Greg Snyder got an offer for the building, they knew they had to take it because “it might not come again,” she says. Still, the decision was heartbreaking.
“I’ve been in here almost every day of my life,” she says.
Joseph Lee Pease and his wife, Ama Brown Pease, opened Pease Food Market in 1929 in a building across the street. Their elder son, William “Willie” Albert Pease, was 17 at the time and eagerly worked in the family business. Younger son Ardist was more interested in sports.
The Pease family was supportive of the community and was noted for giving customers food when they couldn’t pay for their groceries during the Great Depression.
Sandy Snyder doesn’t know the exact date her grandfather and father moved the store to its present location. Born to Willie and wife Frances after her father returned from serving in World War II, she grew up in the two-story store, which began offering furniture and appliances in addition to groceries.
She remembers tearing down empty boxes with neighborhood friends to use as “sleds.”
“My grandmother would let us slide down those steps, all the way out to the alley,” she says. “That elevator worked then; I remember riding up and down in it.”
When Jerry Pease, Ardist’s son and Willie’s nephew, came to work at the store in 1951 after finishing college, it was still selling groceries. “On Saturday nights, my grandfather would cut steaks for him and his new wife,” recalls Sandy Snyder.
Jerry Pease retired in 2015 for health reasons. He passed away on June 6 this year. Greg Snyder says he was a big reason for the store’s popularity.
After graduating from South High School, Sandy briefly attended the University of Tennessee and then went to Knoxville Business College. She was working at a law office when she was introduced to Greg Snyder by a mutual friend in 1968. They were married in summer 1969 at Vestal United Methodist Church.
Greg, a graduate of Harrison-Chilhowee Academy (now King’s Academy), had spent three years in the Marines – playing on an exhibition baseball team that was part of the Corps’ recruiting campaign. After going to UT on the G.I. Bill, he got a job with Miller’s department store. He worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield after marrying Sandy, but he soon entered the family business.
“The business was growing,” says Greg. “They did everything right, treated people right.
“They treated everybody just as honest as you could be treated.”
Greg’s duties were varied, but he, Jerry and Willie were the sales force, the public face of the store. Sandy worked on the business side. She and Greg have two children, Shawn and Shannon, but they forged careers in other fields.
Joe Pease died in February 1970. Willie Pease died in November 1996. Jerry Pease and Greg Snyder carried on in their footsteps together until Jerry’s retirement last year.
It’s been hard shouldering the business on their own. They signed the paperwork for the sale last week. The new owners plan to reopen the building as a cross-fit gym.
Letting go is hard for Sandy. She loves the store as much as her father did, and “it was his life.”
“There’s never been a day that I’ve walked in here that I haven’t wanted to be here,” she says.
But she knows it’s the right thing to do, for both her and her husband. They like to travel and spend time with their four grandchildren. She plans to get involved in volunteer work and increase her computer skills.
One thing she won’t do – even though she has a very comfortable recliner – is sit around. She learned that lesson while recovering from surgery last year.
“That wasn’t for me.”