February 18, 2021

‘Mattress Mack’ Opens Houston Furniture Store as a Shelter – The New York Times

'Mattress Mack' Opens Houston Furniture Store as a Shelter - The New York Times
'Mattress Mack' Opens Houston Furniture Store as a Shelter - The New York Times

James F. McIngvale, a Houston furniture store owner known as “Mattress Mack,” saw his fellow Texans cold and hungry, with little shelter from the winter storm that has ravaged the state and knocked out power to millions.

So just as he did during Hurricane Harvey and other storms, Mr. McIngvale, 70, opened his doors, and the people came.

Since Tuesday, thousands have made the trip to Mr. McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture, spending a few hours on armchairs and couches to warm up, or sleeping on their choice of beds intended, in better times, for the prospective customers who visit the more than 100,000 square feet of showroom. As many as 500 people have chosen to spend the night for the past two nights, he said.

For now, at this impromptu shelter, those in need can eat donated meals or food paid for by Mr. McIngvale. Children frolic on playground furniture in the children’s section. Masks and hand sanitizer stations are set up in front as a precaution against the coronavirus, another danger that Texans are struggling with as they face freezing temperatures, power outages and a lack of clean drinking water.

“We are free enterprise for profit,” Mr. McIngvale said in an interview on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, I would be judged by how much difference I make, not how much profit I make.”

Mr. McIngvale and his wife started the furniture store on Houston’s North Freeway about 30 years ago with a $5,000 investment. He said he is inspired by his Catholic faith.

“When my people are dying and freezing, I am going to take care of them,” he said. “That comes before profit every time.”

Mr. McIngvale said the store has been using a large generator for electricity, although he said power was slowly starting to come back on Thursday. Restroom use can be a challenge without running water, he said, but buckets of water were brought in from an outside source to flush the toilets.

Rosie May Williams, 48, who said she is homeless, tried to take shelter at a convention center earlier this week but was told it was over capacity. She was transported by bus to the furniture store, and has slept for the past two nights on a recliner, eating smothered chicken for dinner on one of those nights.

“They have been very good to me,” she said.

Many of those who chose to stay have organized themselves as volunteers, emptying trash and taking care of other people, who range in age from very young children to older adults in their 90s, Mr. McIngvale said.

“We will stay open for as long as people need us,” he said.