North Carolina furniture market could show boycott impact

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EMERY P. DALESIO, AP Business Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Organizers of North Carolina‘s world-renowned furniture market are releasing attendance figures Friday that could be an important barometer of business reaction to the state’s new law limiting protections for LGBT people.

The twice-a-year High Point Markets bring an estimated $5 billion a year in economic activity to North Carolina. April’s event was the biggest economic activity in North Carolina since House Bill 2 was adopted, defining which bathrooms transgender people may legally use and limiting legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Buyers for Williams-Sonoma Inc. retail outlets, including Pottery Barn and West Elm, were among those boycotting the five-day event.

“Hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend market this April,” the market authority lamented in a statement after the law passed in March.

Friday’s numbers will compare the number of registered buyers attending last month to those who visited the spring market in 2015, Tammy Nagem, the market authority’s chief operating officer, wrote in an email Thursday.

In the past, the authority has provided attendance figures counting all buyers, furniture exhibitors and other industry insiders registered to attend the market. The authority reported two weeks after last spring’s market period that attendance rose more than 2.5 percent to just over 80,000 participants.

Five weeks have now passed since this April’s event, and it’s not clear why the authority plans to focus on the number of registered buyers. They may have had greater flexibility in canceling travel plans if they wanted to make a statement by boycotting.

The non-profit group supporting the market received 57 percent of its funding from state and local governments, according to its 2014 financial statement. State legislators last year decided to increase funding for the authority by 40 percent to $1.2 million a year, not including state transportation money.

None of the dozens of furniture makers and importers contacted by The Associated Press before the April market said they would miss the opportunity to show off their updated products. Many spend millions of dollars and work for months to prepare sprawling display showrooms and entertainment for their customers.

One frequent participant, Currey & Company Vice President Cecil Adams, said his unscientific perception was there were fewer buyers and observers jamming the corridors this April.

“It felt soft as far as traffic,” said Adams, the creative director for the Atlanta-based interior lighting specialist. “In terms of the quantity of folks, we might have had a few less.”

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