An American Villain: Jake Jabs

Jake Jabs is many things: an exceptional salesman is one of those. For decades his commercials appeared on every television screen across Colorado and the outer realms of Arizona, Texas, and Wyoming. If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve undoubtedly seen these, but even if your eyes have never been graced with an American Furniture Warehouse commercial, you’ve without a doubt seen the massive AFW warehouses. Perhaps you’ve gone inside and lounged in the La-Z-Boys, rolled around on the mattresses, stopped and wondered why a Subway would ever be inside of a furniture store.

American Furniture Warehouse is more than a furniture store and Jake Jabs is more than just an owner. He’s the white-haired man synonymous with having exotic animals alongside him in many of those classic commercials. Cougars, Lions, Monkeys, and Tigers, just to name a few. Really, any animal that could seriously maim or injure Jabs seemed to make an appearance at various points over the years.

This crossover of exotic—and most-likely endangered animals—never made much sense. Why would there be animals in a furniture store? Why would Jake Jabs tell me about the outrageous deals at his patented 4th of July Super Sale whilst clutching a tiger in the crook of his arm?

Jake Jabs Book - AFW
Jake Jabs' Autobiography: An American Tiger - AFW

When I first saw the commercials I fell under the trance that these animals were trapped in cages, stowed away in the depths of American Furniture’s warehouse, sequestered in a dark and desolate place amongst the living room decor and outdoor patio sets. I envisioned Jake Jabs as some mafioso, laundering money underneath the shield of a vast empire of furniture. The animals had to be only the beginning of the kind of villainy Jabs conducted as he resided in his lair, amongst his kingdom of affordably-priced furniture. His easy-going attitude had to be a gimmick, some fallacy the old man kept alive to preserve his success and keep any sort of investigation at bay. 

 Jake Jabs is certainly more than an owner, but he isn’t the villain I once envisioned him as. If anything, he’s a man of mystery who has lived more lives than the stereotype he perpetuated through those old commercials. He sold a lie, one that did absolutely no harm to anyone or anything other than those animals he coddled in front of the cameras. (Where are the tigers these days, Jabs?)

 Jabs sold furniture. He sold interest in AFW. With himself, he created a legend, a personality that abounded in the endless rows of dull home decor. He lured thousands of gullible customers to his stores by appealing to the natural interest all of us share. His adorable commercials and nearly year-round sales seeped into our subconscious. The ones who weren’t brainwashed by his propaganda seem to operate outside of the spell he has cast on so many Coloradans.  

My only question is, how is Jabs not a villain?

Jake Jabs In 1992 - Billings Gazette

A villain has to have some sort of eccentricity, something that makes them stand out from the rest of the bad guys. Jabs has a distinctive voice, one that I can close my eyes and hear. It’s a mix of used-car-salesman and dementia-ridden old man. He has wiry white hair and pearlescent teeth that flare brightly into the camera. If anything, the only diminutive factor to Jabs success as a salesman might’ve been how boring he was on the outset. 

Jake Jabs is the best salesman there ever was. What he accomplished was nothing more than a masterclass in the art of sales. Appealing to the pathos of the public, utilizing fair prices in a state where the population was growing rapidly, and constructing a creed which perpetuates honesty above all else. Jabs is not a villain, and this is solely because Jabs has molded himself into a local legend, one that will continue to be respected and rejoiced over for decades to come, long after his reign of success ends. 

American Furniture Warehouse started its path to becoming the conglomerate of affordable decor that it is today in 1975 when Jabs purchased a struggling furniture company unsurprisingly named American Furniture Company. From the depths of an all-but-defunct company, Jabs built AFW into the furniture powerhouse of the West that it is today. But did he do this by way of eliminating all competition? Was he merciless in his pursuit of the throne where he would be anointed King of Affordably-Priced Furniture? 

In my opinion, Jake Jabs never intended to be the folk-legend that he is today. And perhaps to many, he is nothing more than the weird guy who was always clutching animals in his commercials, wanting to sell you furniture above all else, but this was the type of weird that Jabs leaned further into with a purpose. Essentially, Jabs sold himself. Not in the literal sense, but he utilized his eccentric personality and followed his promise of honesty to the fullest extent. 

He conjoined the AFW brand and made those giant red, white, and blue logos synonymous with a man who was seemingly larger than life, or at the very minimum, larger than the high-scaled walls of his warehouses could ever confine. 

He brought out the tigers just to sell some couches.

Jake Jabs sold entire generations a similar fantasy, one whose setting was a furniture conglomerate operating solely out of the West. It resides on the individual to interpret what truth they want to believe about Jabs and AFW, but the truth is never as exciting as the image those commercials conjured up. The furniture may not be anything more than the epitome of Midwestern design: dull, uncomfortable. Yet there is no internal criminal conspiracy laying dormant under the watchful eye of a mastermind like Jabs, the artifice of the persona he has instilled to so many to keep his empire afloat.  

Jake Jabs is not a villain, but I’m still holding out hope that some abhorred truth is revealed somewhere in the near future, and this isn’t cynical in the slightest but rather purely self-centered. I wanted his tyranny to be the truth. I want tigers trapped in cages. I want Jake Jabs to be revealed as some covert and diabolical kingpin whose only goal is to rule over Colorado’s furniture market, because this would solidify Jabs as yet another titan of American crime.

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