Longevity in the business world is a novelty by anyone’s standards these days. To stick with the same career, same job for decades is often unheard of. A building on West Main Street, in downtown Statesboro, defies those fickle statistics, however, and now houses the second, third and fourth generations of determined, hard workers who faithfully served the community and beyond, along with the first-generation founders, since 1934.
L.A. Waters Furniture Center, a stone’s throw from the very middle of downtown, opened its doors locally in the early 1940s, when Loy Anthony Waters Sr. and his wife, Ruth, chose to relocate their furniture business from Twin City to Statesboro.
Loy Sr., born in Waycross, worked in insurance first, but, according to his grandson, Loy Anthony Waters III, who goes by Anthony, “Insurance wasn’t his cup of tea.” Loy Sr. was aware that a businessman in Jesup sold furniture in various nearby communities by delivering pieces in the back of his truck.
“Granddaddy was interested in that furniture,” said Anthony, “and he was the first person to extend credit to customers. He’d sell it to them, sell off the back of the trucks and make a collection at the same time.”
When World War II rations affected the economy, Loy Sr. could no longer get tires for his trucks nor purchase enough gas to support the business, which meant he had to make changes.
“My family was living in Twin City at the time,” said Loy Anthony Waters Jr., or “Si” to all who know him, “and my father had routes to places like Swainsboro, Statesboro and Millen. Statesboro was the biggest route.”
Anthony remembers that his grandfather said, “On Saturday afternoons, I went to the courthouse square in those places to see what was happening.” Apparently, the activity in Statesboro is exactly what helped him make the decision to open the store here.
Si, a second-grader at the time of the move, said, “Everything we’ve done has been on a shoestring; we had to make it work. We used to sell used furniture, what you’d call antiques today. A big truckload of furniture came from New York once a week that we had to re-glue and put back together.”
When Loy Sr. and Ruth — who was the only bookkeeper of the furniture store for 65 years — purchased the old State Theater where the store is currently located, the storefront grew in size from the original building, also on West Main. The new store was nestled between a clothing store and a hardware store, with a fish market down the street. Chickens roamed out back, and crickets chirped inside the hardware store, as the owner raised and sold crickets to fishing enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, one year after that move in 1963, a fire broke out in the building.
“We moved the furniture out and lined it up on West Main Street. The hardware store and our store burned up,” said Loy Sr. “We were very fortunate to have a local bank get us back in business again.”
Loy Sr. remembers that many in the community supported and offered help during that time. “Even a competitor, Curtis Youngblood, told me, ‘Anything I have is yours.’”
In fact, that same personal touch and relationship is most likely what’s kept the business in operation all these years, though Anthony claims his dad always says, “If you don’t ever let your shirttail touch your back, you might make it.”
Just like the original founder, both son and grandson have kept busy operating the business for years. An agriculture major at University of Georgia, Si first worked as an engineer in Screven County with the Soil Conservation Department. “Then mom and dad were worn out, and I had to come help them.”
Anthony added with a laugh, “The people working for Grandmama and Granddaddy were making more money than he was, so he came to work for them.”
Anthony officially began working for the company in 1982, but an early memory the Georgia Southern graduate recalls took place during fifth grade. “It was Christmas Eve, and we were out delivering furniture until late in the evening.”
Anthony and Si point out that they’ve lived by the senior L.A. Waters’ motto: “You’ll never be successful selling to somebody once. You can’t make a success out of a new business without repeat customers.”
Repeat customers for sure, coupled with a wide variety of customers, encouraged the growth of the business that now includes two other Statesboro stores: L.A. Waters Furniture Showcase & Mattress Center on Lovett Road, beside the Statesboro Mall, that offers a huge display of quality furniture and I SAVE MORE, next to Krispy Kreme, that offers special closeout and overstock merchandise.
“Success in any business — you’ve got to do a good job for your customers,” said Anthony. “We provide them with quality furniture and great customer service, so that they’ll want to come back, generation after generation.”
Their business plan works, obviously, as seen in the hearts of the fourth generation of men working at the store, Loy Anthony Waters IV, 25, and Lee Waters, 22, sons of Anthony and Sally.
Both Georgia Southern graduates look forward to continuing the legacy. “I was born into the business,” said Loy. “I think there’s something special about working with your family. It’s fun to give back to something that’s been instrumental to my whole life. The part I enjoy the most, this furniture business is really a people business. I love the family and people I work with and the people we serve.”
Lee concurred and added, “I chose to come in the business because I see the life Granddaddy and Grandmama had, and I see the life Mama and Daddy have, and that’s the life I want.”
“We always look to give something before expecting anything in return,” said Loy. With a grin directed at his granddaddy, Loy said, “Work is a privilege.” Si smiled in return, acknowledging that he’d uttered those words many times to his kids and grandkids.
Si and Ida, married for 62 years, are blessed with three children: Anthony, married to Sally; Fred, who works in Evans with Ranco Tent Rentals and has two children, Anna and John, and daughter, Laurie, married to Judge Michael Muldrew. Laurie and Michael are the parents of Daniel, Joseph and Kate.
When asked about the number of hours he puts in at the store, 85-year-old Si says, “I don’t work full-time, I work all the time.”
However, somehow the Waters’ family has found time over the years for other interests.
The family has been longtime horse owners, showing and riding for years that began when they first moved to Statesboro.
“We bought a spotted pony named ‘Pal’ at the stockyard,” said Si. The family has over a dozen horses now, but has had as many as 60.
“Lots of experience hauling horses,” said Si. “We’d show in almost every horse show,” he said of the kids’ younger days. “And we’d win in almost everything.”
Si jokes that his wife, Ida, made sure they still found time for church, too.
“She’d say after a late-night’s return from a show, ‘If you can go on the road all night, you can get them to Sunday School,’” he said.
Horse shows for the most part are in the past, but the hard work doesn’t end.
“We meet at the barn at a.m. every day to work the horses, train a few, then come to town to see if we can make enough to buy horse feed,” said Anthony.
Lee, the youngest of the Waters’ men working at the store currently, makes cane syrup every year during the fall that turns into a family activity, too.
Another Waters’ family pastime involves raising Red Setters, quail hunting dogs.
“We’ve had the same line of bird dogs since Anthony was a kid,” said Si.
Longevity. Commitment. Dedication. And hard work. Words synonymous with a long-standing building in downtown Statesboro on West Main Street that’s been the home of four generations of furniture sellers.
And with a “work is a privilege” mindset, the business most certainly has the promise of future generations of Waters’ workers and a wealth of satisfied customers.