Off the beaten path lies a furniture store that offers far more than the big-box experience. Step inside this Rockford gem and see how it can inspire your next home updates.
It’s not very often that a business moves out of the high-rent commercial district to establish itself in an old industrial neighborhood. But the move has paid off for Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St. in Rockford, a destination store that provides most any surface material and furnishing for your home, both indoors and out.
It’s become a one-stop-shop for kitchen design, home furnishings, flooring, landscape design, patios and fireplaces, among other items. It even has a cafe inside, from which the aromas of fresh coffee and baked goods emanate.
“What we’re able to do here is provide a much more extensive showroom, with more extensive product categories, in a very generous space,” says Andy Benson, president. “To our customers, we’re able to provide a beautiful showroom with a large selection in a less-expensive location, and in turn that allows us to keep our prices very competitive.”
Benson Stone’s main showroom is set inside a 127-year-old former furniture factory, a building that was thoroughly restored in the early 2000s to show off its vintage character. At the entrance, a grand fireplace offers a warm welcome. The renovated, opened-up space reveals a rustic timber frame, original wood flooring and exposed brick walls. Alongside the staircase, a glass elevator whisks visitors from floor to floor.
Across the first floor are displays filled with fireplace options as well as barbecue grills and landscaping materials, including a huge selection of stone. The second floor is filled with home interior surfaces – samples of carpet, tile and wood flooring; samples of granite countertops; and model kitchens, with brand-name cabinets from Dura Supreme and Woodharbor.
The third and fourth floors are filled with furniture for every room imaginable – bedroom sets and mattresses, home office sets, dining rooms, living rooms, custom fabric samples. Many of these pieces are American-made, by brands such as Flexsteel, Thomasville, Hooker, and Bradington Young.
With so many services under one roof, Benson Stone makes it possible to shop for a complete renovation in one place. The 10 designers on staff specialize in fireplaces, kitchens and interior design.
“If you’re doing a bathroom or a kitchen remodel, you don’t have to go to a cabinet store, and then a countertop dealer and then a flooring place,” says Benson. “Everything is here, and our salespeople and designers will help you to coordinate everything. You can even be looking at a piece of furniture and want to match up some carpet or hardwood – all you have to do is come down to the second floor, take out a sample of carpet and compare it with the sofa. We’ll even help you to select new brick or stone for your fireplace.”
In all, Benson Stone now spans three blocks. There’s the main showroom; a former factory building where granite is fabricated; and various warehouses and stone yards. While many of Benson Stone’s customers are homeowners, local contractors also rely on the company for brick, stone and other hard landscaping materials. To better serve them, the company recently purchased the former Rock Valley Brick & Supply at 5901 Material Ave., in Loves Park, Ill. The new location will serve as the company’s primary location for masonry supplies.
Benson Stone was founded in 1930, when father-and-son stonecutters Martin Benson and M. Howard Benson purchased a Rockford stone company at auction. During the 1980s, the company expanded from building and landscape stone to include fireplace units and patio furniture. In 1991, the company expanded into a retail location on East State Street, just west of Perryville Road; seven years later, opportunity came knocking when a local furniture retailer closed its doors.
“Our original location was two blocks away from Rockford Standard Furniture, so when they went out of business and their building went up for auction, we liked the idea of getting everything into one location,” explains Benson.
Renovating the former factory into a welcoming retail space was no small task. When the Bensons purchased it, the building’s historic character was hidden behind years of cover-ups.
“The grand, two-story opening at the entrance, the stairways in the middle – none of that was there,” says Benson. “We cut sections out of the floor and added the glass elevator. We exposed the character of this old building. All of the beams had been painted, all the floors had been covered up with carpet, so we sandblasted all of the beams. Now, you see the actual walls and the original hardwood flooring.”
And, you hear the comforting creaks and groans of the building’s framework. When it opened to the public in 2001, the new retail space covered just two floors, showing mostly stone, brick, granite, fireplaces, patio furniture and barbecue grills.
The third- and fourth-floor furniture showrooms were remodeled and opened in 2004; retail space for flooring and kitchen design opened in subsequent years.
From the beginning, the space has included the HearthRock Cafe, now a popular destination for casual breakfasts and lunches. Besides the coffee and pastries that are served all day, the menu includes quiche, waffles, crepes and biscuits & gravy. For lunch, there’s a combination of soups and sandwiches – deli cuts, hot sandwiches such as pot roast and barbecue pulled pork, and signature items such as grilled chicken breast bruschetta.
“It makes this a fun destination,” says Benson. “And, we have gift items nearby that change with the seasons, so there’s always a reason for you to come back. People don’t shop for furniture very often, but when they visit the cafe, they have an incentive to return.”
Benson is the fourth generation involved in his family’s business. His 82-year-old father, Howard, is still active in the stone side of the company, and wife Kim and son Paul are also actively involved.
With more than 80 years of family ownership, Benson Stone offers something distinct that big-box competitors can’t: a longstanding tradition of serving neighbors. Benson says the company doesn’t play pricing games like its competitors, some of whom sneak in hidden charges after the sale.
“We don’t play pricing games or make deceptive claims,” says Benson. “If you look just at the bottom-line price and compare, we’re going to be very competitive, yet our advantage is that we provide professional design assistance, better service and higher quality installation. Plus, you have a company that’s going to stand behind the product.”
With four floors of showroom to explore, Benson Stone carries a wide variety of products and services that you aren’t likely to find at a big-box retailer. It all adds up to a unique shopping destination.
“If you had to build this on Rockford’s East State Street, it just wouldn’t work,” says Benson. “But in this location, we have a huge building, lots of displays and plenty of choices for our customers. The breadth of products that we offer under one roof is truly unmatched.”