January 02. 2013 11:56PM

Manchester's Hoitt Furniture, founded in 1880, is up for sale

New Hampshire Union Leader

C. Brian Longo, president of C. A. Hoitt Furniture on Wilson Street in Manchester, is shown at the store on Wednesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

In the 1930s, C.A. Hoitt was manufacturer of Profile Bedding in addition to being a furniture retailer. This photo appears in the recently published book "Manchester Memories." (Courtesy of C. Brian Longo)

MANCHESTER - C. Brian Longo gets a little sentimental as he looks over laminated pages from an 1880s advertisement for C. A. Hoitt Furniture, featuring $25 "chamber sets," a popular term for bathroom fixtures at the time.

"This ad pre-dates electricity," he said of the four-page insert from what was then the Manchester Union. "It's advertising for gas lamps."

The area surrounding Longo's office on the second floor at C.A. Hoitt Furniture at 293 Wilson St. is rich with history, including a showcase full of sepia-toned photos, one with horse-and-buggy rigs "parked" in front of the original C.A. Hoitt location.

Another chapter soon will be written in that long history, as C.A. Hoitt goes up for sale, ending two generations of Longo family ownership of a business that's been part of the fabric of Manchester since the Industrial Revolution.

Longo broke the news to employees at a building-wide meeting Monday as notices were going out to longtime customers.

He plans to clear as much of the inventory as possible before selling the property to a new owner - one he hopes will continue a tradition that began in 1880 when Charles A. Hoitt opened for business at 816-826 Elm St.

"There are some interested parties even as we speak," he said. "But nothing is set in stone. If someone buys the business and wants to continue the legacy and tradition of it, that would certainly be a consideration."

Legacy and tradition run deep in the Longo family and its ownership of Hoitt's.

"There have only been three owners in the history of the business," Longo said with pride. "Mr. Hoitt himself, who sold to Charles Mooney in the mid-1920s. In the early 1960s, Mr. Mooney sold to my dad, Carl Longo. So it was always operated by furniture people. It was Mr. Mooney's wish to keep it as a freestanding furniture store."

Furniture people

Mooney was determined to find "furniture people" to buy the store, and his father fit the bill, Longo said. Longo's grandfather had operated a furniture business in Lawrence, Mass., and his father moved to Manchester in the late 1950s to open Mammoth Mills on Mammoth Road, a combination department, furniture and grocery store, from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s.

For a time, the Longo family operated both C.A. Hoitt, and Longo's Furniture and Bedding at 625 Hooksett Road, until selling the Hooksett Road location in 1999 to the Bonneville family for a new Dodge and Jeep dealership.

After graduating from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., in 1971, with a degree in history education, Longo tried teaching for a couple years before returning to the family business as general manager at Mammoth Mills.

"My father thought that I should do what I went to college for first, and if I had the calling, I'd come to the furniture business afterward," he recalled.

Forty years later, with two sons in their 20s who've moved on to other pursuits, Longo felt the time was right for him to retire.

"It's a good time for me, at my age and station in life, to start to pursue other interests," he said. "There are a lot of hours in the work week when you own a retail business. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time away from family, but it was worth it, every second."

He hopes to see more of his wife, who will continue to work as a paraprofessional in the Manchester school system, and maybe pick up golf again.

"I think I'll finally take my mother's advice and clean up my room," he said softly. Longo's mother passed away in 2011, his father in 2001.

Brand built on loyalty

The family built the business on loyalty to staff and customers, Longo said, and that's how they are approaching the transition.

"The majority of our employees have been with us a considerable amount of time, some 30 or more years," he said of the 15 workers who will be affected by the sale. "My pledge to them is to get them placed in some other form of employment in the furniture business. It is what they are good at. Any furniture store that's looking to hire would be well-served by them."

Longtime customers were notified by mail of the family's decision and of a private VIP sale Tuesday through Thursday of next week. The storewide retirement sale starts on Friday, Jan. 11.

"We have always been a destination for fine furniture and that's the legacy I will hope will be maintained," he said.

When asked if a new owner is likely to keep the Hoitt name, as his father did, Longo didn't hesitate: "In my personal opinion, it would be in their best interests to do so."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.