Business, Local

In Age Of E-Commerce, Atlanta International Gift And Home Furnishings Market Still Relevant

For more than five decades, Atlanta's AmericasMart has been the biggest thing that Atlantans will never see.
Credit Jim Burress / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

As happens twice a year, some 90,000 people have converged downtown for the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market at AmericasMart.

It’s where manufacturers and wholesalers compete to get their products into retail stores near you. And even in the era of e-commerce, “the market,” as it’s called, still matters.

This pillow, right, is a favorite of Lydia Pomey, who’s been an exhibitor at AmericasMart for 25 years. She says being able to touch and demonstrate a product with buyers is essential to her business. (Jim Burress/WABE)

When famed Atlanta architect John Portman opened AmericasMart in 1957, he described it as a department store for retailers. It’s also been called “the place where you go to shop goes to shop.”

“It’s remarkable to think about that so much of what you see all over the world was sourced in this building,” says Jenny Heinzen York, vice president of Home for AmericasMart Atlanta.

The downtown exhibition center is actually four buildings encompassing 7 million square feet of interior space. That’s the equivalent of 2 1/2 Empire State Buildings. From cookware to Christmas lights, rocking chairs to rugs, if you can put one in your home, you’ll find it on display here.

And cheap. Relatively speaking, anyway.

Vendors price goods at the wholesale level, and often volume purchases by the container load or more net even bigger discounts.

From Christmas lights to chandeliers, if it can go in a person’s home, chances are it’s on display here. (Jim Burress/WABE)

“That’s one of the reasons that we [market] so strictly to the trade,” Heinzen York says. “Because we can’t reveal what things really cost.”

For 25 years, Lydia Pomey has set up shop at the semiannual show. The company she works for, Eastern Accents, makes custom textiles for small-box retailers and interior designers. In the age of e-commerce, the Atlanta market is how she stays relevant.

“We find we have more success with this type of product when you can sit down face to face and show it to them,” Pomey says.

Heinzen York of AmericasMart says that hands-on relationship also is key to the future of the venue itself.

“Because products can be bought and sold online, we have to tell a better story about why you need to be at market.”

That’s because no matter the product, there’s no substitute for seeing, smelling and sampling something before making a purchase.