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Filling the void

Writing in the issue following the collapse of the World Trade Towers, The New Yorker's architectural critic ruminated over the structures' symbolic hold on the American psyche—particularly the grip they've had since their demise.

"The void," he noted, "has more weight than the solid."

As this issue goes to press, the home textiles industry itself seems to be in the throes of a fixation on "the void." The phones have been buzzing all week with news — some of it inaccurate — about who is not coming to market, word of some companies lobbying against market and affirmations from many others that are just as determined to see market go on as planned.

So when word came mid-week from George Little Management that the Javits show would be postponed until November, it only heightened the anxiety, uncertainty and debate.

Suddenly, the void assumed an unappealing aspect of gravity.

Does it deserve so weighty a place in this market? Let's do a reality check.

Word has it that Wal-Mart is not coming to market.

Wal-Mart sent no buyers to the last market.

Word has it that Target is not coming to market.

Ditto.

Word has it that May Company is not coming to market.

May Company said it would not attend the last market, then sent a couple of people anyway.

The Javits show has been bumped back to November, granted, and even its most optimistic adherents would wager that it will draw a smaller turnout. GLM has wisely offered its exhibitors the option of applying their show fees against spring 2002 if they prefer, and it's likely that many will opt to do so.

But as wonderful as the Javits portion of market week is — and I speak as a fan of the show — it is not the heart of the market. It provides a terrific forum in which to see boutique lines and leading-edge designs. It gives U.S. companies that are considering a move into the market a low-risk opportunity to dip a toe in the water, and provides foreign companies with little or no experience here an efficient way of exposing themselves to the industry.

In reality, though, for the folks who ply their trade on Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue and at the Flathotel, the Javits show is something they make a run through if they have the time. Its absence does not undermine the whole of market week.

All this in combination with a troubled economy will inevitably raise again the debate about whether market any longer serves a useful purpose. Remember, though, this contention extends back to the days when the big mills moved south and then flared again when four annual textiles markets consolidated into two.

Against the void this fall, there is substance. Six of the 10 top home textiles retailers are coming to market — accounting for roughly $7.7 billion in annual textiles sales. And they will be joined by others ranging from Strouds to Profitt's to Crate & Barrel.

This is the market, people. Imperfect, perhaps. But nonetheless, open for business.

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