By Joy Bergmann
In December, Long’s Bedding will end its 87-year run as West 72nd Street’s premier mattress emporium. But fret not, this fourth-generation family business will continue, albeit across Central Park in the wilds of the Upper East Side. “It’s going to be a beautiful showroom,” says Bob Long. “More space, more beds, bigger sizes to show. Gorgeous!”
Difficulties securing a new lease at 121 West 72nd spurred the search for alternatives. Nothing on the UWS exactly fit the bill. But a larger, 4,600-square-foot raw space at 70th and Third Avenue did. Though excited about the new opportunity, Long says the move is bittersweet. “I’m sure when the day comes on December 31st, it’s going to be difficult for me. It’s the only home I’ve known.”
Bedding has been a Long family vocation for over a century.
“My grandfather – a Polish immigrant – started the business in 1911 in Harlem as a mattress factory rebuilding and renovating mattresses. My father and uncle worked for him before breaking off and opening Long’s Bedding in 1932 on 72nd Street where Tip Top Shoes is.
In 1962 my father opened this store at this location. And I came here in 1963, fresh out of flunking out of the University of Wisconsin,” Long laughs.
His wife Judie joined the team in the early 80s. Daughter Terri – after graduating from college – came onboard about 18 years ago and is now the boss. “Three years ago I gave Terri the store; it’s not mine anymore,” Long says. “She is the finest, the best, hardest-working, most competent person I’ve ever had in the store.”
Judging by the dozens of signed celebrity headshots hanging around the shop, something akin to hero worship seems to follow the Longs. And why not? Their products bestow that illusive miracle to high-strung New Yorkers: a good night’s sleep.
Point to any framed picture and Bob Long will tell you a story.
James Taylor: “He comes in on a summer day wearing a straw hat and Hawaiian shirt. Bought a king size. We get husbands and wives. Carly Simon and him. Customers when they were married and when they were divorced.”
Mandy Patinkin: “Great guy. Been a customer for over 30 years. He sent over a special autographed picture for my granddaughter Olivia.”
John F. Kennedy, Jr.: “He came in when he was in law school and he was in law school a long time! He came in a NYU t-shirt. I didn’t know who he was until I was writing up the order.”
Hester Diamond: “She’s the mother of Beastie Boy Mike D. Lives on Central Park West with an art collection that’s unbelievable.”
Mick Jones from the rock band Foreigner: “He’s a good customer! He brings in a lot of people.”
Henry Kissinger: “Kissinger bought a bunch of beds for his home in Connecticut, but we had to sign an NDA not to reveal where it is.”
Marla Maples: “She bought a bed when she was having the affair with him, before it came out in newspapers. I guarantee you he slept on that bed. And it was a cheap one!”
Long looks around the room and smiles, “Most of them are really nice people.” However, he has recently re-arranged a few pictures in a special row that has a name spoken only amongst the staff. The constituents? Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mike Tyson, Mario Batali and James Levine.
So, how is it that Long’s Bedding has survived when so many other mom & pop shops – especially in the highly consolidated mattress industry – have not? What’s their secret to success?
“Our reputation. Customers recommend us because we spend enough time with somebody to make sure they find the right thing,” says Long. “We have something for everyone. From low-priced options to the Relyon brand from England – the finest beds in the world and the only not-made-in-the-USA products we carry. There are more expensive beds, but none better.”
Experienced, specialized service is also a major differentiator for the company, he says. All six of their delivery drivers work only for Long’s and have been with the store for at least five, if not 20, years. Same story with the sales team. Joel’s the newbie with a mere seven years at Long’s, Ethan’s going on 20 and manager Bob Tunison started over two decades ago, left for other opportunities, came back, left again and has been back for three years.
“Our customers stay with us,” Long says. “People’s kids graduate from college and we ship to their first apartments in Boston, Los Angeles. We ship everywhere – Africa, London, Germany, France, Australia – everywhere.”
The family hopes their beloved West Side clientele will be happy to make the quick trip over to their future location at 1220 Third Avenue, whether they need a new mattress or a cup of coffee and conversation.
Bob Long will be there. At 75, he has no plans to retire. “I can still help my daughter out,” he says, and besides, “I go crazy when I’m not working.”