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Hardwood: The only way to go

When someone walks into his downtown Merced store, David Thomas hopes he or she will be drawn to hardwood flooring and not its competition, laminate flooring.

Thomas and his wife Carrie have owned United Floor Covering at 312 W. Main St. for 15 years. He managed the store for five years before buying it.

"I'm a hardwood guy," Thomas says. "In a perfect world there would be no laminate. When I put my name on it I want the customer to be really happy. Most tend to be disappointed; laminate is a photographic picture of a hardwood. You can't get the full depth of a real hardwood."

Still Thomas concedes laminates may be more suitable for situations where there are pets, children and lots of high traffic. In floor covering, he says he probably sells 50 percent hardwood and maybe 5 percent laminates.

"I absolutely will try to talk them into hardwood but there are times where I will end up reluctantly selling laminate," Thomas says. "Laminates tend to be more affordable. There are hardwoods out there that are price-competitive. Some hardwood are price-comparative to high-end laminates. Once they realize that, most people jump over to the hardwood side."

There are about 25 or more different types of hardwood, such as pecan, oak, maple, hickory, birch or walnut. There are some exotic types from Brazil as well as domestic products from the United States.

Co-owner Carrie Thomas feels the same way as her husband.

"I'm all a fan of the real deal," she said. "I don't understand why somebody would want a picture of wood. We are raising three kids and have three dogs and hardwood in the kitchen and throughout the whole house. I like wood; it tells a story and dents and scratches add to the character."

Thomas said he tells his customers all the time that the best laminate will look is the day it gets installed. With hardwood, the longer it is used, the better it looks.

"I have lived with hardwood floors all my life. They tend to age well. Hardwoods are getting longer and wider; there are a lot of tropical finishes. You can get a more unique, attractive look with hardwoods. In dealing with natural products there are no two lookalikes," he said.

Thomas said laminates have a life expectancy of 20 years or less while hardwoods will last 50 years or more. There are different quality levels for both hardwood as well as laminate.

"With laminate the more you beat it up the worse it looks," Thomas said. "Hardwood is something if you go with the right one and as you use it and it ages, it will gain character and will look better, Hardwood always has a better look than laminate."

United Floor Covering is Merced's only locally owned and operated floor covering store. The store has been in business since 1973.