Early’s Carpet: A half-century of everything in stock

As you pass through Amissville on U.S. 211, you will see a brick rambler — you have seen it hundreds of times — where, for 50 years, Early’s Carpet has been thriving as one of Rappahannock’s largest employers and most venerable businesses.

This Monday (Oct. 10), Early’s is having an open house to celebrate its half-century of providing carpets, flooring and other home services to the tri-county (and D.C.) area.

Lorraine Early, founding owner of Early's Carpets, says that Monday's open house is dedicated to all those "who have worked with us" since the Amissville store opened in 1966.Luke Christopher | Rappahannock News
Lorraine Early, founding owner of Early’s Carpets, says that Monday’s open house is dedicated to all those “who have worked with us” since the Amissville store opened in 1966.

Founding owner Lorraine Early says the party is meant to honor the past and current employees who have helped over the years, but everyone’s invited.

“You don’t do everything alone,” she says. “I could not have done this without local help, that is very much part of our success, the people who have worked with us. And that’s one of the reasons I’m dedicating the open house to them.”

Part of Early’s recipe for success can be seen in Lorraine’s diligent attention to keeping press clippings, providing marketing materials and having direct contact with customers.

“I started mailing out 42,000 direct-mail advertisements twice a year,” she says. “The Postmaster used to say that’s what put Amissville on the map and kept it a post office today. Of course that’s all changed, and it’s part of what I’m reminiscing over, but I had all the local help, friends and family who helped get those 42,000 mailers out. It took a good while, but you don’t do everything alone.”

Alone she’s not. Early’s is a family business started in 1966 by Lorraine and her husband John, who passed in 2014, from their Amissville basement. Since then, three generations have worked there. “The family members in the early years were my sister, two brothers and my mother, so it’s been family that helped through the years, and it’s still family-operated,” says Lorraine.

Co-workers Stephanie Jenkins and Wes Clayton confer with General Manager Sonja Early Betts about their busy upcoming week.Luke Christopher | Rappahannock News
Co-workers Stephanie Jenkins and Wes Clayton confer with General Manager Sonja Early Betts about their busy upcoming week.

Daughter Sonja Early Betts sees to the day-to-day operations and handles some of the more high-profile clients. “For a very long time we’ve been doing The Inn at Little Washington,” says Sonja. “Patrick [O’Connell] selects the carpets, most of it custom and then we install the custom orders. He’s very thorough.”

Having their own warehouse and being located in a strategic location that’s close to both Fauquier and Culpeper counties have also been integral to their prosperity, Sonja says, noting that “it’s convenient for a lot of people and they don’t have to fight traffic. As you can see, the store is open to a lot of things.”

Open is an understatement. Walk through the 3,200-square-foot showroom and you’ll see all their offerings apart from carpeting — from window treatments and draperies to ceramic tile and other specialty products. But it’s not until you walk straight through to the connected 11,400-square-foot warehouse do you understand the scope.

The large cutting machine streamlines the process of one-stop shopping at Early's.Luke Christopher | Rappahannock News
The large cutting machine streamlines the process of one-stop shopping at Early’s.

“We are the only store around here with that kind of inventory,” says Lorraine Early. “We have a warehouse that’s 20 feet high. We used to take the carpets off the freight trucks and roll them onto racks by hand. Then we got the add-on of the warehouse and forklifts, that was a big thing, and now we have a cutting machine.”

“We stock a lot so you can save from $2 to $15 a yard on your carpet and we stock almost 100 rolls of carpet,” said Sonja Early Betts.

A customer hauls out a roll of carpet he selected, with help from Stephanie Jenkins, from the vast warehouse. Luke Christopher | Rappahannock News
A customer hauls out a roll of carpet he selected, with help from Stephanie Jenkins, from the vast warehouse.

Location and inventory are not the only factors that has kept the business flourishing for a half century. “Product knowledge, workmanship, our warranties that back our company and seeing that our suppliers back our customers,” says Lorraine. “We have invested a lot into the company and we invest in our people with education. We send our employees away to take a week’s class. They have to be certified, it could be from the hardwood floor industry, or the ceramic industry. We deal directly with the manufacturers and associations. We get certifications from both because we have a Class-A license.”

Early’s other advantage, says Lorraine, asked about how the county’s famously careful zoning may have affected the business, has to do with the fact that Early’s opened in 1966 — 20 years before the county even adopted its conservation-oriented stance. “ I’m grandfathered in,” she says. “We started before zoning became a factor. You don’t see many businesses in Rappahannock. But 211, Amissville, was always thriving, before the four-lane came through. There were several automobile places, gas stations, repairs, the post office was on the main drag, there were two or three restaurants, beauty shop, fire station, a country grocery store. When the four lanes came through it just left us. It was a very busy crossroads.”

The open house

Early’s Carpet celebrates its 50th anniversary with an open house from 11 to 1 Monday (Oct. 10) at the store (14574 Lee Hwy., Amissville). There will be barbecue, ice cream and refreshments, and a door prize. Along with Lorraine’s memorabilia there will be some “thank you” gifts — and, of course, many items on sale. Visit earlyscarpet.com for more information.

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