Bill Rhue's passion for woodworking has been on display across the Pikes Peak region for nearly 40 years.
In 1978, Bill and his wife, Bonnie, started a small furniture and cabinet-making shop in the basement of their Colorado Springs home. Today - years after they expanded the manufacturing operation and launched retail stores - Rhue's bookcases, entertainment centers, desks and other items can be found in thousands of area homes and businesses.
But that's about to end.
The Rhues are closing The Not Just Oak Place at Academy and Dublin boulevards, their current retail store. It will shutter July 26, and a going-out-business sale is underway.
Physical ailments - caused, in part, by the furniture-making operation - have taken their toll on him, Bill Rhue said. He no longer can operate his manufacturing equipment on a production basis to support the retail business.
Besides, he typically works six days a week - splitting his days at the manufacturing plant and the store - and only sees his wife one day a week.
"After 37 years and four shoulder surgeries and carpal tunnel surgery and standing on that cold concrete floor down at the wood shop during the winter, and I'm turning 60, we decided it was time - luckily by choice, not by force," he said recently. Rhue's interest in furniture production began when he took a woodworking class as a 12-year-old at East Junior High School. At Wasson High School, and even at Colorado State University, where he received a marketing degree, Rhue took more woodworking classes.
The Rhues started the manufacturing operation after college, but it was too small to accommodate the growing demand for Bill's products. In 1985, the Rhues moved it to an 8,000-square-foot facility near Platte Avenue and Circle Drive, where it operates today.
The next year, the Rhues opened Wall Units, Etc., near Platte and Chelton Road, where they sold Bill's products. In 1988, they moved the store to a larger space in a shopping center at Academy and Union boulevards.
Wall Units Etc. was renamed The Oak Place, and the Rhues added a second store next door called The Bookcase Place. In 2003, they consolidated into a single store and moved The Oak Place to 1837 Dublin Blvd. The store became The Not Just Oak Place about five years ago to reflect customer demand for cherry, knotty alder, hickory and other types of wood products.
The business always has been a family operation. While Bill ran the manufacturing and retail operations, Bonnie oversaw the company's books and finances while working her own full-time job in the finance department of a local high-tech firm. Their two daughters appeared in television commercials over the years to promote the business, while shop manager Melvin West has been with the company for 28 years.
About 85 percent of the inventory at The Not Just Oak Place is made at the manufacturing plant; 75 percent of the items made at the plant are mass produced and 25 percent are custom orders.
Rhue said he's particularly enjoyed custom work. Customers have small nooks and crannies in their homes, and Rhue said it's a challenge for him to design the right product to fill those space.
"It makes me use my head and I get to use my creativity in doing that, versus, 'Here let's build 50 bookcases and 25 desks and credenzas'," he said.
Rhue doesn't have a favorite piece of furniture, but took great satisfaction a few years ago when he designed a special baby crib and changing table to accommodate a woman in a wheelchair.
Even as the Rhues close the retail store, Bill Rhue said he might maintain the manufacturing operation for small custom jobs - but nothing that would require a regular production schedule.
"My trade, as well as all trades, unfortunately are dying," he said. "Too many kids, all they want to do is work behind a desk or a computer. I always enjoyed working with my hands and starting with raw material and really turning it into a nice finished product.
"To me, it's been that self-gratification that I've really and truly enjoyed. Had it not been for the health, I would still be doing it."
Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228
Facebook: Rich Laden