The Man Who
Didn't Go to Market
FRIDAY, APRIL 23, 1976 -- The man in the pinstripe suit sits quietly in the second row, but every now and again he glances up from the newspaper on his lap and watches the other passengers come aboard.

Passengers lumber by his first class seat, dropping behind them crumpled pages from old notebooks and dozens of wrinkled furniture sketches. Eventually Eastern Airlines Flight 595 is filled to capacity and the man in the pinstripe suit instinctively knows everyone on the New York-to-Greensboro run this Tuesday evening is going to the spring edition of the Southern Furniture Market.

Everyone but the man in the pinstripe suit himself.

"I've done my time at the furniture markets, that's for sure," he says jokingly as he returns to the dog-eared copy of the New York Post in his lap. "I've been at the furniture market dozens of times, more times than I sometimes like to remember. It's someone else's turn to do the work now."

The man in the pinstripe suit ignores the furniture people behind him who are working furiously to finalize last-minute plans for the market. Even when one of the furniture people from the back of the plane moves toward the blue and black seat to greet him, the man in the pinstripe suit barely answers.

Instead of fraternizing, the man in the pinstripe suit adjusts his bifocals and scrutinizes the newspaper. He devours the skimpy business section and scans the day's stock market results, but his eyes eventually return to the front page--the front page that carries the depressing news that famed interior decorator Michael Greer had been strangled in his Park Avenue apartment.

"I don't know about this, I just don't know," he says to the passenger in the next seat, a fat man who writes furiously in a stenographer's notebook. "Sometimes I think it's unfair that the only time this business gets any publicity in the consumer press is when something bad happens ... When something gory happens or when prices go up."

The man in the pinstripe suit sighs glumly and reaches for a copy of Newsweek. When a flight attendant walks by, he orders a gin on the rocks with a twist of lemon. He pours the contents of one of the bottles into a plastic glass and gingerly places the unused bottle in his breast pocket.

"I take this flight once a week now between New York and Greensboro," the man in the pinstripe suit says, "and very often I meet furniture and textile people and I always like them a great deal. But times change a great deal, too, and people are more cynical.

"Is that why you stopped going to the market?" asks the fat man in the aisle seat.

"Oh, no, not at all," the man in the pinstripe suit replies. "When I was in Burlington [North Carolina], I used to attend these things all the time. I'm retired now, though--at least I'm retired as long as you don't ask my wife. The market is something that I haven't been following for the last several years."

The man in the pinstripe suit runs his fingers through his graying hair and stuffs the Newsweek magazine back into a battered brown leather carrying case with a green tag. He smiles broadly and laughs with abandon when he hears the furniture people around him expound some standard in-flight business platitudes.

"How long have you been in this business?" the fat man in the aisle seat asks. "Did you used to go to the furniture markets when they were in Chicago?"

"God," says the man in the pinstripe suit, betraying just a slight Southern accent, "it's so long ago it's really kind of hard to remember. But, yes, I was there."

"Do you like High Point better or what?" the fat man asks. "I've never been to one of these things before."

"High Point is better," the man in the pinstripe suit says with conviction. "Everyone is down here and it's much more interesting than the old days with the North and South manufacturers always competing. Besides, I live in Greensboro, greatest city in the world. You'll enjoy it a great deal."

But the man in the pinstripe suit really doesn't answer the fat man's other questions about the furniture business. He speaks of many other things, but not furniture.

When the flight finally lands at Greensboro, the man in the pinstripe suit is the first passenger ready to debark.

"Sure you're not going to come to the market this year?" asks the fat man.

"Absolutely not," the man answers with a grin. "I'm just a retired executive."

The man in the pinstripe suit straightens his tie and hurries down the metal stairs.

"Have a good time at your market," he says to the fat man with a wave of the battered brown carrying case. "You'll enjoy yourself."

Outpacing the crowd and the fat man, the man in the pinstripe suit moves briskly through the drab airport corridors, but stops suddenly, turns around and smiles briefly at the crush of furniture people behind him.

Then C.E. Myers, the 64-year-old former chairman of the board of Burlington Industries, the man in the pinstripe suit, silently walks through the exit doors and moves alone into the Greensboro night.

This story originally appeared in Home Furnishings Daily, a trade newspaper for the furniture and retailing businesses.