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Reduce, reuse, recycle, reupholster, is motto of Willmar, Minn., upholstery hobbyist turned pro

Ernie Rousseau reupholsters a chair for a customer Thursday at Prairie Upholstery shop in downtown Willmar. Rousseau, who spent much of his working career in the metro area, opened his business in August 2011 and has since changed locations. He has been interested in upholstery as a hobby for many years, recovering furniture for family, relatives and friends. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Ernie Rousseau's motto is reduce, reuse, recycle and reupholster.

Rousseau, owner of Prairie Upholstery of Willmar, believes in the value of American craftsmanship.

"If you have something that's more than 7 or 8 years old, then it came from the United States, and our craftsmanship in furniture is far above and beyond (what is found elsewhere),'' he says.

"That's why people are interested in re-upholstery.''

Rousseau, who worked as a manager for a company in the Twin Cities, has been interested in upholstery as a hobby for many years, recovering furniture for family, relatives and friends.

"I'm happy with doing upholstery for anybody,'' he says.

Rousseau and his wife moved to Willmar about two years ago to be closer to his wife's mother in Glenwood. In August 2011, Rousseau bought upholstery equipment from a retired individual who had done upholstery as a sideline in another city and had returned to Willmar.

Rousseau said the man spent a month showing him the ins and outs of different things that Rousseau said he didn't know. "That was very helpful,'' he said.

Rousseau opened his business next to Frieda's in August 2011 and in November moved the shop to the present location at 200 Sixth St. S.W. "in historic downtown Willmar.''

Rousseau said he's a big supporter of downtown.

"That's why I scoured for the final location downtown because I think the downtown area needs more businesses and I'm real happy to be downtown.''

Rousseau is aware Willmar's last upholstery shop was located where an ice cream shop recently started on First Street South.

"The funny thing is this upholstery shop used to be an ice cream shop,'' he chuckles.

Rousseau says business has been better than he thought it would be. His assistant is Samantha Mellesmoen.

"Our acceptance in the community has been overwhelming,'' he says. "We're here to stay.''

Rousseau has more than 500 fabrics and colors to choose from, all of which are made in America. Rousseau works on new and gently used furniture, car and truck seats, boat seats and repairs canvas. He also has upholstery cleaning and carpet shampoo machine rentals.

His work includes recovering a 20-year-old La-Z-Boy recliner, pickup truck seats and an old leather chair from an attorney's office. Another customer wants a table refinished and six chairs redone for a dining room set.

"We keep busy,'' he said.

Rousseau's working on a unique rocker with carved gooseneck arms that a woman saved when family members wanted it thrown out. The rocker had been in the family for four generations. The carved heads emerged after Rousseau removed the dirt and grease.

"The lady came in the other day and saw them and was in tears because she didn't know that that was there,'' Rousseau recalls. "She knew it was there at one time but she thought they had worn off because it was her grandmother's chair. And now she's going to have a unique, one-of- a-kind chair that you just can't buy. I'm real excited about this.''

Rousseau says he has something to please just about everybody.

"Prairie Upholstery is committed to doing quality work at moderate prices that can be enjoyed by families for many years to come,'' he said.

"I don't get many complaints, but I like to tell people that if they like the product or service from me, then please tell your friends. If you don't like it, let me know so I can fix it and make it right, guaranteed.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150