Eliot Tatelman admits he has no clue what will happen Friday when his new Jordan’s Furniture store opens in South Portland.

Oh, there will be a big ceremony at noon, when the doors are unlocked at the store, located in a space at The Maine Mall formerly occupied by Bon-Ton department store. Tatelman, president of the seven-store chain, will show off two floors of furnishings along with an indoor ropes course, complete with a huge LED light-emblazoned ceiling that can flash in time with the music.

Eliot Tatelman, president of Jordan’s Furniture, poses inside the new South Portland store at The Maine Mall on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But will there be a crowd? Will excited shoppers stream there this weekend, strolling through all the couches, tables and mattresses?

“We don’t know what to expect,” said Tatelman, conceding that the coronavirus pandemic has scrambled retailers’ plans for most of the year.

Jordan’s announced that it was expanding to Maine more than a year ago, around the same time that Bernie & Phyl’s, another Massachusetts-based chain, said it would open a store in the state. Both were hoping to capitalize on a strong real estate market in Maine, with homebuyers splurging on furnishings for their new digs.

Bernie & Phyl’s moved quickly, taking over a spot on Maine Mall Road that was occupied by Toys ‘R’ Us. But Tatelman took his time, gutting the former department store space and building anticipation over what amenities would be coming with Jordan’s.


Jordan’s is known almost as much for those amenities, such as IMAX theaters and dancing water fountains, as it is for its furniture offerings.

But as he toured the South Portland showroom Thursday, Tatelman conceded that the buildup to this opening has been somewhat constrained by the pandemic. He said the store will be limited to no more than 500 customers at a time – 50 in the ropes course area – and customers will be asked to wear masks, as Tatelman did for most of an interview Thursday.

The new Jordan’s Furniture Store at the Maine Mall includes a ropes course, for those who might want to do more than shop for furniture. Jordan’s stores are known almost as much for their amenities as for their furniture.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Tatelman said the design of the store, overseen by his two sons, didn’t have to be modified greatly because of the pandemic. The only significant, overt nod to the coronavirus appeared to be plexiglass shields at a customer service desk.

The other Jordan’s stores – in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut – have all reopened, and Tatelman said shoppers have returned. He speculated that people, cooped up at home, have decided some of their furniture seems tired and are eager to replace it.

But, he said with a shrug, he has no idea if that will continue.

Jordan’s was family owned until it was sold to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1999. Tatelman said the company wasn’t on the market when Buffett said he’d like to buy it.


Tatelman said he called Maine businessman Harold Alfond, who had sold his Dexter Shoe Co. business to Buffett six years earlier. Tatelman decided to go ahead when Alfond told him that Buffett was a good owner to work for. Incidentally, Buffett bemoaned the Dexter Shoe purchase for years, conceding that he didn’t understand the shoe business, overpaid for the company and should have paid in cash rather than Berkshire Hathaway stock, which shot up in value after the transaction.

Reassured by Alfond, Tatelman went ahead.

But he’s got a number of things he’s undecided about now, including promotions. Tatelman noted that he’s in the last year of an advertising contract with the Boston Red Sox.

His past promotions included offers such as free furniture if a Red Sox pitcher threw a no-hitter or a perfect game. But he’s not sure of the value of promotions during this year’s pandemic-shortened, 60-game season, which will start in a week.

But at least on Friday, Tatelman said he hopes Maine shoppers will rediscover the days when shopping was fun and not a potential health hazard.

“There is no business that’s not show business,” he said.

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