EVANSTON — After 40 years in business, Schofield Furniture and Appliance is closing. Due to Melba Schofield’s ill health, her sons had to make a tough decision to liquidate, close the store and sell the building. Two of Melba’s sons, Bruce Stewart and Josh Schofield, both said, “It is just time.”
In addition to Melba’s health, the family said a former employee stole more than $8,000 last year, and all of Melba’s seven sons have other jobs.
Jay Schofield and Melba Stewart married in 1977. Melba had four sons from a previous marriage and she and Jay had three together. When Jay and Melba Schofield began their furniture business in 1978, it was located at the Red Mountain Mall.
“When I was a kid I would hang out at the store there, and when a customer would come in I would call my mom and she would hurry down from our house on Red Mountain,” Bruce Stewart said.
He said the whole family was involved with the business when the seven boys were young.
Later the store was moved to the building across the street from its current location. When the present location at 941 Front St. became available in 1988, they moved into it and expanded their business. Josh Schofield said that when he was young and single he worked full-time at the store. When Jay Schofield passed away in 1997, Melba took complete responsibility for the store’s operation.
Josh Schofield now has a family and works for Hilcorp. Stewart also has a family and works for Holly Energy. Jayson Schofield lives in Kansas.
Jason Breininger, who has worked for Melba for 10 years, is sad to see the store close and even sadder that Melba is in poor health.
“She was great to work for,” Breininger said. “She is all heart and would go out of her way to help someone. Jay may have started the business but Melba made it work.”
He said Schofield’s was one of just two locally-owned businesses that had in-house financing and Melba would help customers who needed to skip a payment. They also provided customers the courtesy of picking up the old appliance to dispose of it when delivering the new.
In discussing the history of the old building, Stewart and Josh Schofield brought up stories about the basement. Stewart said the former owner, Mr. Neville, had built cars in the basement, old Model A’s and others. He said there are old car parts still down there.
Josh Schofield said old business ledgers are downstairs, too. They talked about the big oven in the basement that, according to Evanston lore, was once a crematorium. There’s also an entrance to the legendary Evanston tunnels, but it’s no longer accessible.
Breininger talked about the supposed resident ghosts at the store.
“One time I went downstairs for something, and there was a strong smell of cigarette smoke,” he said. “I saw a guy walking around and I knew no one else was in the building. I hurried back upstairs. Days later I saw a picture of a man near Melba’s desk and asked who it was.”
Melba said it was her late husband, Jay.
“He had already died before I came to work for her so I didn’t know him,” Breininger said. “However, the man in the picture was the one I saw in the basement, Jay Schofield. I also saw a lady once in a green cloak upstairs and later she was in one of the windows as I left work one night. Melba said she doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she told me that one night she was alone and working late when she heard footsteps upstairs and coming down the steps. She said she immediately left.”
He said when he and Melba would come to work in the morning, sometimes objects would be moved around and the recliners would all be spread open.
The store’s liquidation sale has only been going on a short time, yet most of the inventory is already gone. The first week of sales, Stewart said, were “swamped with customers and people were even fighting over things. We are selling most items below cost, so it is a huge loss.”
They hope to complete liquidation over the next few weeks and then worry about the sale of the building.