As someone who once donned an actual mattress while waving a wad of cash on television, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale doesn’t like to take himself too seriously. A surefire way to get under his skin, however, is to call him a certain word: hero.
“Hell, no. I’m not a hero,” he says, quickly shifting from jovial to dead-serious. “Look, I’m a huckster. The heroes are the first responders — the firemen, the policemen, the EMTs. Those are the heroes.”
But last year, as Hurricane Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and flooded, by estimates, one-third of Houston, McIngvale took action. His beloved Gallery Furniture store (famously located at I-45 North at Tidwell and Parker) became an emergency shelter, taking in displaced Houstonians.
Gallery Furniture employees, en route to work, picked up stranded locals and brought them to the center. McIngvale enlisted anyone with a commercial driver’s license to drive Gallery Furniture trucks and help in rescue efforts. His Post Oak location became a giant donation drop-off point.
“It was simple: The town was flooding,” McIngvale recalls. “People were gonna drown, so we let ’em in. There’s nothing more to it than that, you know. We’ve always put people before profit, and that ain’t gonna change. If it does change, I deserve to go to hell in a hand basket.”
When it was all over, hundreds of evacuees and first responders had utilized Gallery Furniture as a rescue or command hub. And when McIngvale wasn’t directing recovery efforts, he was writing checks.
“I’d say I spent around ten million total when you add everything up.”
Since the storm, McIngvale has been called a “savior,” with a petition for his own day, and even graffiti in his honor. He has been (wishfully) mentioned as the next mayor of Houston. “Tell them I’m running for ‘Furniture Man,’” he retorts with a laugh. And as much as he bristles, he’s been called a hero. “But the heroes are the people who got flooded and were brave and resilient throughout the entire ordeal,” he insists.
McIngvale feels that Harvey tested Houston’s mettle. “That was our moment of truth,” he says. ‘Valor is a gift,’ Carl Sandburg once said. ‘Those who have not never know whether or not they have it until the moment comes.’ Well, our moment came.”
Despite the tragedy and devastation, Houston, having its moment, is actually stronger, McIngvale says. Here, then, is how it’s stronger, post-Harvey — straight from the legendary pitchman and philanthropist himself.
It taught us that unity is community
Human beings were made to live, work, play, and die in groups. And the further we get away from that fact, the more we screw things up. People now live in isolated groups. The average size of a U.S. household now is less than three. People are lonely. They want to be together with other people, and I think Hurricane Harvey taught us there is truly unity in community.
Volunteering is good for mental health
People feel better about themselves. They feel better about the community. They feel better about life and it sets off endorphins that help their mental health.
Crisis teaches us more than happy times
The Hurricane Harvey ordeal taught us all how to fight. When I say fight, I mean fight for people’s lives, fight for our state, fight for our property. You know, the force was Mother Nature, obviously, but how to fight and how to be resilient.
We gotta get up off our ass and do something about this flooding problem
So, we pass the bond proposal — 80 percent. We never had that kind of margin before. We gotta do something with all this water. We gotta solve the problem rather than keep ignoring it.
It taught us that life matters and people matter
At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. All this money, all this wealth, all this bullshit ain’t nothing — people matter. Lives matter. Houstonians love Houston and Texans love this state, and, you know, we truly are Texas strong. Even though that’s a slogan, people come in here every day and say, “We’re proud to have you in our city. We appreciate the way Houston represented itself during Harvey.”