Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

This page was created 14 May 2014

Lay’s Oneida Furniture Co. – 75 years of service


Now in its 75th year, Lay's Oneida Furniture Company is possibly the oldest continuously operated retail establishment in Scott County.

Founded in 1920 by 23-year-old Arlie M. Lay, Lays Oneida Furniture Company was located “across the tracks” in South Oneida in the vicinity of where the Hartco/Tibbals office building stands today.

This is the building which housed Lay’s Oneida Furniture Co. from its early years until 1932, when it moved from Depot Street to its present site at the corner of Second and Main across from the First Baptist Church of Oneida.  The store was founded by Arlie M. Lay and celebrates it 75th anniversary this year.

An opportunity was taken to move into a larger store on Depot Street which housed the business until 1932. On Friday, July 1, 1932, the new, modern brick building opened for business on north Main Street, next door to the First Baptist Church of Oneida and remains the anchor store for the Lay-Simpson Furniture Stores. The opening announcement for the new store that appeared in the local newspaper encouraged folks to come to the opening celebration on Friday, and Saturday, July 1st and 2nd, to possibly win a Sellers oak kitchen cabinet valued at $50 or four 9x12 felt based rugs.

“Your credit is good here” is a slogan that spelled success for Lay's Oneida Furniture Company. Buying "on-time" was the only way most newly weds could afford to start housekeeping. After choosing the furniture for their home, which was delivered that same day, they would pay for the furniture with monthly payments. Financing is still available today.

Arlie M. Lay, founder of Lay's Oneida Furniture Co., poses behind a wringer washing machine in this 1941 photo of the Main Street Store.  Note the sign on the Second Street side of the store, which points out that in addition to furniture, the store also offers hardware and is a “5-10-25-cent” store as well

Another 1941 photo shows Arlie Lay (left) and partner Virgil Simpson in front of the Jamestown, Tenn. store they jointly owned.  It was known as the Jamestown Furniture Company.  The Lay-Simpson partnership was a successful one, and stores were established in several Tennessee and Kentucky communities.

Appliances are delivered by railroad boxcar and loaded onto trucks from Lay’s Oneida Furniture Co., and the Lay-Simpson stores in surrounding communities in the railroad freight yard photo taken in the early 1950s.

At their 50th Anniversary celebration in June 1972, four of Orange and Arlie’s sons were present.  From left are John, Allyn, Orange, Arlie, Jack, and Bob.  Their eldest son, Bill, was not present.  [NOTE:  this caption obviously does not belong with this picture but is cited as it appeared in the FNB Chronicle article.]
One customer recalled he and his wife selecting their first furniture from Lay's Oneida Furniture Company. They really wanted a set of Revere cookware, but had already spent as much as they felt they could afford, so they didn't take the cookware. When the furniture was delivered to them, the cookware they wanted was included. They were told it was a gift from Arlie and Jack and the folks at the store. The customer is still using that cookware today!

Virgil Simpson of Somerset formed a partnership with Arlie Lay several years ago and soon Lay-Simpson Furniture stores were opening in the surrounding area. There once were stores in Stearns, Jamestown, Campbellsville, Celina, Caryville, Rockwood, as well as a bedding manufacturing company in Somerset. Stores are still open in Somerset and Albany, Kentucky and in Tennessee stores are open in Monterey, Livingston, and, of course, the Oneida store.

Arlie's son, Jack, has been with the store for 40 years, and for much of that time has served as manager of the Oneida store and president of the corporate chain of stores. In 1991, Jack's son, Jerry, assumed full time duties at the store to begin the third generation in the family owned and operated business.

Arlie Monroe Lay was born January 22, 1897 to Wm. Alfred Lay and Margaret Collins Lay. Wm. Alfred was reared on the part of Uncle Mose Lay's farm on Rock House Fork which his father, Berry, and his grandfather, Wm. "Dandy" Lay, bought.

Wm. Alfred and his wife, Margaret, lived awhile on the farm at Rock House Fork where their first son, Arlie Monroe, was born. Then, after working around sawmills awhile, Wm. Alfred became a railroad fireman and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. He later moved to Jellico, in Campbell County, Tennessee, thence to Middlesboro, Kentucky. While at Middlesboro, he lost his job on the railroad. He moved to Fleming, Kentucky about 1912 or 1913. From there, he moved to his dad's farm in Scott County, Tennessee and eventually bought it.

He finally settled in Oneida, Tennessee when his oldest son, Arlie M., moved there.

A small man, only a little over 5-foot, 6-inches, Arlie was nevertheless quite athletic in his youth, especially in track and field while a student at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, where he ran the 100-yard dash in about 10 seconds.

Arlie was at LMU when World War I broke out. He volunteered for the service, but was turned down because of poor eyesight. Despite that, however, Lay was ultimately drafted into the Army in August, 1918 and was sent to France, landing at Brest on October 7, 1918 - just a month and four days before the Armistice was signed.

Back in the U.S., on July 18, 1919, Arlie got a job with a furniture store in Pineville, Kentucky, deciding he would rather go to work than to finish his studies at LMU.

Just a year later, however, Arlie gave up his job at the Pineville Furniture Company, and came back to Oneida to start his own business, having heard that the relatively new Scott County community was growing rapidly. That was a decision that proved to be well-timed, as he established Lays Oneida Furniture Company.

Within two years of returning to Scott County, Arlie married Orange Mae West on June 12, 1922. Over the next 21 years, Arlie fathered six sons; namely: William Joseph Donald Lay, Robert Burton Lay, Allyn Monroe Lay, David Harold Lay (who died in infancy), Jack Marvin Lay and John Charles Lay.

L ooking back through the 1920s and 1930s ledgers and "on-time" contracts while researching for this story, it was like reading a history book. Folks from Clinchmore to Stearns and from Wartburg to Zenith and all points between bought essentials for house-keeping from Lay’s Oneida Furniture Company and most of them bought “on-time”, paying $2 to $5 a month.  You can trace the economic conditions of the area by what folks bought at various times.  The first years in business were, of course, just after World War I and the economy was in recovery.  Folks were buying “store-bought” mattresses, linoleums, window shades, and even felt rugs.  Straight back chairs were replaced with mohair living room suites and oak dining tables and chairs replaced homemade eating tables and benches.  On into the 1920s, phonographs and records were quite the rage, for these were the “Roaring ‘20s”.  Gasoline powered washing machines and kerosene operated refrigerators were being bought “on-time”.  After 1933, electric refrigerators were replacing the kerosene ones and it seemed everyone had to have a battery-powered radio.  The Philco model sold for $49.50; quite an investment in that day and time, but most everyone could afford $2 a month!

Your parents, grandparents and, yes, even great-grandparents, have bought something at sometime at Lays Oneida Furniture Store and there are yellowed-with-age ledgers to prove it!

Arlie turned the business over to his sons in the 1950s, but not the family farm on Coopertown Road. He enjoyed working and relaxing “on the farm." An avid history buff for most of his life, Arlie collected and methodically pieced together his family history. He substantiated the bits and pieces of the family chronicle by searching libraries, census records, marriage records, tax lists, old family Bible records and cemeteries. His handwritten pages of notes were typed and preserved by the Scott County Historical Society in a booked called The Lay Family History and that book is available for purchase at the Independent Herald business office in Oneida for $16.24 per copy. According to Paul Roy, editor of the Independent Herald newspaper, "Arlie Lay, one of the area's most successful businessmen, is now recognized as a very successful local historian as well. For despite the fact that his years of work had been a quest for his own roots, it serves at the basis for a good, readable local history of scores of other families. Intermixed with all the factual material, are Lay's note on interviews with some elder residents of Scott and adjoining counties - accounts which are informative, from an historical point of view, as well as entertaining."

Arlie and Orange Lay lived on Fourth Street, near the Scott County Hospital in Oneida, until their deaths. Orange died at the age of 80 in 1982 and Arlie died when he was 93 in 1990.

The legacy lives on as Lay's Oneida Furniture Company celebrates its 75th anniversary. They are a family furniture store, trying to do all the little things that make customers happy. Good furniture, honest people and good service after the sale; that's Lay's Oneida Furniture Company.

At the Oneida store, in addition to Jack and Jerry, other long-time employees include service and delivery men G. W. Hicks, a 40-year plus employee, and Otis Buttram, who's been with the store for 22 years. Recently retired are Earl Braden and Barney Silcox, both of whom were also longtime employees of Lay's Oneida Furniture Company.

If you have any old pictures pertaining to the Lay's stores - or old stories, bring them in when you stop by the store - they would be glad to see you. Help them celebrate 75 years of service to this area.

Orange & Arlie Lay on 50th Anniversary (June 1972)

At their 50th Anniversary celebration in June 1972, four of Orange and Arlie’s sons were present.  From left are John, Allyn, Orange, Arlie, Jack, and Bob.  Their eldest son, Bill, was not present. 

Vintage ad announcing Grand Opening of new modern store in 1932

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 6, No. 3 – Spring 1995
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
(p1, 3-5, 8)

This page was created by Timothy N. West and is copyrighted by him. All rights reserved.