Washburn Imports and Imperial bar coming to Winter Park

Washburn Imports and Imperial is a unique furniture shop by day — and a bar when the clock strikes 5 p.m.

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  • | 10:29 a.m. May 25, 2018
John Washburn travels across Asia in search of unique items to sell at Washburn Imports.
John Washburn travels across Asia in search of unique items to sell at Washburn Imports.
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Looking to buy some new exotic furniture? Maybe you’d rather grab a drink with some friends.

Why not do both?

Washburn Imports will be giving Winter Park residents a chance to shop for furniture and sip drinks all in the same place at its new location set to open this summer.

The furniture store has a spot picked out at 170 E. Morse Blvd., creating its third location following its Orlando and Sanford storefronts.

“We started this about 22 years ago,” owner John Washburn said. “I travel all throughout Asia. I go into India, Thailand and China, and I buy exotic furniture and we ship it back to our stores. We also do wholesale, too, to Universal Studios, Disney, hotels and restaurants.”

Washburn previously worked in the restaurant/nightclub business for about 10 years until about 1997, when he set out on a different path. A close friend of his in Bali offered to send him a container of unique furniture to sell, and that’s when Washburn got hooked. He’s been acquiring furniture and selling it to adventurous buyers ever since. 

“I realized I was good at it, I was interested, and I liked it,” Washburn said. “I just went from there, started traveling myself and meeting people.”

Washburn opened his first Orlando location in 1997, followed by the Sanford location in 2006. The shops sells everything from tree-trunk tables and vintage cabinets to eye-catching tapestries, lamp fixtures and trunks. 

About a decade ago, Washburn came up with the idea to blend his furniture endeavor with his history in the restaurant business, opening up a bar in the shop called the Imperial.

By day, Washburn Imports sells unique furniture from several Asian countries, but when the clock strikes 5 p.m., the Imperial bar within the store opens and welcomes thirsty patrons.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Washburn said. “When the recession hit 10 years ago, people stopped buying houses and stopped buying furniture; they stopped buying a lot of stuff. I had to figure out a way to get people to come into my showroom and see my furniture.”

“I thought, ‘Let me put a bar in the middle of our showroom.’ People are always going ‘Hey, I’d love to hang out in your furniture store.’ I’m like, ‘Well, now you can.’ It ended up being much cooler than I thought it would be. … Our showrooms are all decked out with really ornate, unique and exotic furniture, so they’re really fun places to hang out in.”

The Imperial at Winter Park will feature craft beer and boutique wines, along with a food menu.

Washburn is excited to bring the concept to his home town, he said.

“I grew up in Winter Park; I’ve always wanted to have somebody in Winter Park,” he said. “I have so many friends and associates that I know in Winter Park that often don’t leave their neighborhoods, so I thought it would be nice to have something off Park Avenue. That will fill that niche. It’s a great place to inspire your imagination.”


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