DETROIT (WWJ) – Metro Detroit-based Art Van Furniture has been sold to a private equity firm.

The company announced Tuesday morning that founder Art Van Elslander is transitioning the business of 58 years to “one of the world’s oldest and most experienced private equity firms” — Thomas H Lee Partners out of Boston, Mass.

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An employee at one Art Van store, who didn’t want to give his name, told WWJ Newsradio 950’s Laura Bonnell “it was a shock to us all” when the news came without warning.

Art Van Elslander (credit: Identity PR)

Art Van Elslander (credit: Identity PR)

He said while they were told it’s a “very large sale,” employees were reassured that “business won’t change one iota.”

Van Elslander, chairman and founder of Art Van Furniture — as well as its sole shareholder prior to the sale — opened his first store on Gratiot Ave. in Detroit in 1959.

Today, the company said in a release, Art Van Furniture is one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the U.S., with over 100 stores in five states, a successful franchising program and more than 3,500 employees.

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“The heartbeat of any organization is its people,” said Van Elslander, in a statement. “I am proud of Art Van Furniture’s history and what we have accomplished. The time for an ownership transition is right and the opportunity presented itself. There is still much I want to do, and I feel confident knowing the company and its people will be in the very best of hands for continued growth and success.”

The furniture chain is not going away. The company says existing leadership at Art Van, led by CEO Kim Yost, will work closely with THL to continue to enhance growth.

“After thoughtful consideration and strategic evaluation, we determined that Thomas H. Lee Partners is absolutely the right ownership partner for Art Van,” said Yost. “We are collectively committed to building on Mr. Van’s tremendous legacy as we enter this new chapter of the Art Van Furniture story.”

“We are gratified and honored to be able to partner with Art Van Furniture as the Company moves into its next phase of growth,” added Jeff Swenson, Managing Director at THL. “Over nearly six decades, the company has continuously realized Mr. Van’s vision and set the standard for excellence in furniture retail in the Midwest. We look forward to working with the entire team at Art Van as we continue to aggressively grow this outstanding brand.”

The sale is slated for a February closing. Sale terms will not be released.

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Art Van Furniture’s current headquarters is located at the 14 Mile Rd. store in Warren.