In 1953, a shipment of hundreds of hollow-core doors failed to meet the specifications of a New York buyer. Many enterprising young people in their twenties realized that the purchase of non-standard doors at $1 each was an unusual opportunity. They bought the consignment and started a business in Greenwich Village building metal legs that would turn doors into inexpensive tables and desks. The door store was born.
One of these young people, Natalia Karpovich, decided five years later to move the company to Cambridge, where she grew up as the daughter of a renowned Russian scholar and professor at Harvard. Michael Karpovich. He moved in next door to the garage in Harvard Square – a working garage at the time. In 1971 the store moved to its current location in 940 Massachusetts Ave.Riverside.
More than 50 years later, Andrew Anisimov, the son of Natalia Karpovich and Oleg Anisimov, runs the company, which still specializes in bespoke tables and desks. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, including attractive wooden tops that can be paired with separate legs of various kinds, and with a full workshop in the basement, the company offers customers a wide selection of styles and finishes, including unique pieces. -objects such as shelves and custom kitchen islands.
The Door Store has been part of Anisimov’s life since birth – the same year the business started. He has vague memories of the Harvard Square location, he said in a March 29 interview at the outlet, and began working there as a teenager on a variety of tasks, such as assembly of hundreds of chairs. Anisimov quit to attend college, where he was a dedicated hockey player, but returned and became the store’s full-time manager in the early 1980s, a job he held for more than 20 year.
Change of hours
The store has seen many changes over the decades. In the 1970s, “everything was a butcher block,” Anisimov said. So “cherry wood had a good long life”, but walnut is now more popular than cherry. Years ago, the store sold fabric, but “that all dried up in the 1980s,” that is, when many family businesses closed and suppliers “conglomerated “. At one time, there were about a dozen furniture stores in the area (“it used to be a furniture aisle here,” he said), but few remain. Products have been upgraded over time; for example, wood veneer table tops are now surrounded by solid wood so they cannot chip or peel along the edges.
The dotcom bubble between 1995 and March 2000, when the Nasdaq composite stock index rose 400% and then fell precipitously, was the store’s best year. There were up to a dozen employees; on a busy Saturday there would be five vendors on the floor. “There were what seemed to me like kids coming in here and ordering 25 tables at a time,” Anisimov said. “They were doing these start-ups. And they would call us a few months later and order a bunch more tables. Eventually, some of them called us and said, ‘Can you redeem them?’ This was after the bubble burst.
For decades, September was the store’s best month as new people moved into Cambridge. When housing became more expensive in Cambridge and harder to find, the peak shifted to August as, Anisimov speculates, newcomers started coming early to rent or buy, then left for a month or two before to return to take possession in September. “You couldn’t just show up and find a seat,” he said. “We actually had this blip once or twice in July.” April has always been the low point of the annual cycle.
Retail closed in 2020 due to Covid, and the future looked ominous – but more and more people also started working from home. When Ikea and Wayfair sold out, The Door Store was selling “handmade” desks. As the pandemic continued, “I was ready to invest some of my own money to run the store,” Anisimov said, “but it wasn’t necessary.” Through various Covid relief programs, the store secured around $100,000 in forgivable loans to help weather the crisis.
The constants too
Through it all, there have been constants. Word of mouth has always been important to the company, which has never spent a lot of money on advertising. Additionally, “tables and desks are still the engine that drives this store,” Anisimov said.
Many customers have been loyal for years, and as former customers got older and downsized, “we used to do a lot of assisted living deliveries,” he said. “And we still do.”
Dawn Leate became manager in 2009. Like Anisimov, she enjoys the time she first spent doing various other jobs at the store. “I think it’s hard to run the store if you don’t know it well. I had the basics by the end of production and now I have a pretty decent pace knowing what to order and when. Mario Davila is another key employee who, together with Leate, has modernized the company with new, better tools for the workshop. “They’re amazing,” Anisimov said of the two.
A decisive spirit
Leate and Anisimov are concerned about the recent removal of a dozen nearby parking spaces, plus four more that were once two-hour counters but now only last 15 minutes. “We are still a bit in shock after this big change,” Anisimov said.
With all businesses in the region now relying on two loading zones, whether for contractors or restaurants receiving deliveries, “we often don’t have access to the loading zone that we always have had access,” Leate said. The activity is down about 10% compared to the previous year, but the part that is due to parking changes is still unknown. A few customers strapped small tables to their bikes, “and it’s a sight I’ll never forget,” Leate said.
Anisimov’s mother, Natalia Karpovich, was an independent-minded woman, “a spit,” Leate said. During the early 1970s, Karpovich regularly met other like-minded women on the third floor of the Massachusetts Avenue building housing The Door Store. Several of these women wrote the chapter on menopause that appeared in the 1973 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”, a feminist classic that has sold millions of copies. Anisimov and Leate often think of Karpovich’s personality and business acumen, which were key to creating and growing the store’s enduring business.