Ruth Bass: Faded blue denim connects a long thread of good memories

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RICHMOND — The thread that ties this family to Paul Rich began its journey one afternoon in 1960 when a short, white-haired man named Isadore Secunda wanted to sell us a mattress. At his New England Furniture on Fourth Street, he jumped on the bed and laid down to demonstrate how good it was — then bounced off and invited me to try it.

Those were the days when women went shopping in skirts, maybe even heels. Dressed like that, and newlywed as well, I was mortified at the very idea and declined. But we bought the mattress. When we eventually could afford more than a single chair in the living room, we went back and began to buy couches and dining room tables and all sorts of things. In the process, we met Izzy's son-in-law Paul who did not jump on beds and whose quiet demeanor and good taste appealed to us. He was a subtle salesman and very good at it.

Paul Rich and Rick Petricca, both forces in shaping their special segments of the Berkshire economy, were on the obituary page on the same day last week. A Berkshire native, Rick's first business career was selling chickens and eggs as a child, and he went on to found or operate many successful businesses. Paul was almost a native, moving here at a young age and having his first job in his father's news outlets on North Street. He returned to North Street years later when he established Paul Rich and Sons Furnishings and eventually took over an entire block, as the firm's reputation grew.

We have this comfy denim couch in our living room, a replacement for the more formal one that wore out during the years of growing children. The couch is not decor — we were always more into comfort than interior decoration. It's great to sit on, lie on, sleep overnight on. If the intent is to lie down and read, the book will probably fall on the floor when the reader succumbs to a nap. Recently, looking at its faded state, I wondered out loud if it was time for a new couch. The grandson ensconced on it at that moment popped up to say, "No, you can't get rid of this couch." So it stays.

Paul sold us that piece of furniture and then delivered its duplicate to one of our children and his wife in Connecticut. No problem, he said, as long as you don't mind waiting until the truck goes your way. That's when we learned that second-homers had discovered the upscale store and bought not only for their Berkshire places, but for their permanent houses. A Paul Rich truck might pass you in Boston, New York or anywhere in between.

Over the years, Paul found us a furniture repairman, sent his installer when our friend in the floor covering business gave us stair carpeting and promised to dispatch someone if we needed help flipping our mattress. More importantly, he became a friend we were glad to see anywhere because the conversation was always good, whether he was catching up on our kids, bragging about his grandchildren, giving his views on the issues of the day or discussing Moravian furniture. He was always so nice, so interested. In his later years, he had a serious problem with his eyes, but to us outsiders he seemed to deal with that vision loss — and its accompanying restrictions — with aplomb.

It's been quite awhile since Paul has been a regular fixture among the Persian rugs, dining room tables and, yes, mattresses, but his philosophy has stayed on North Street. Our stair carpeting was quite shabby about four years ago when we suddenly needed to install one of those incredible electric chairs to connect our first and second floors. Could I get the worn out carpet changed and the chair installed in time for my husband's homecoming from rehab?

I called Paul Rich Furnishings and asked for Tom, Paul and Betty's son, and told him the problem. He was back to me in a day or so with a contractor's name and the assurance that the crew would come almost immediately and change the carpet. It wasn't a sale for him, it was just the thing to do to help out. Little things mean a lot.

Tonight I'll lose my place in the whodunit I'm reading by falling asleep on faded denim. Or think about Paul and his wife Betty while I watch TV in the comfort of a Paul Rich chair that I share, in daylight hours, with a dog who thinks it's the best place in the house to sit.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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