Daughter Sarah and her business partner Melissa O’Malley take over stores

Photo by Marty Cheek
Evelia and Jaime Rosso are retiring while daughter Sarah Rosso and her business partner Melissa O’Malley (not pictured) are taking over.

By Calvin Nuttall

After more than four decades selling sofas, armchairs, and end tables, Evelia and Jaime Rosso will retire as the owners of Rosso’s Furniture. With confidence, they’ll pass their family business to their daughter Sarah Rosso and her business partner, Melissa O’Malley.

Established in 1979, the business — with stores in Gilroy and Morgan Hill — stems from a legacy of furniture retail starting with Jaime’s father, also named Jaime Rosso. His father stumbled into the business almost by accident in San Bernardino, Jaime said.

“He was an accountant, but he always had a side hustle,” he said. “He had a little storefront where he helped people with their taxes, but he also ran a small jewelry business there at the same time. One day, he ordered a sofa, but there was no room to take it in, so they put it outside the shop. Well, customers walking by the place started asking, ‘How much for the sofa?’ And that is how it all started.”

From that opportunity, the business quickly outgrew the storefront. What was intended to be a weekend gig became surprisingly lucrative, and the Rossos needed somewhere to put their growing inventory.

“Initially my dad said, ‘Oh, we’ll just send a couple of truckloads,’” Jaime said. “Truckloads at the time were small, and we didn’t have a lot of room anyway. He started selling a promo three-piece set. It was a sofa, loveseat and chair for $699, and it sold like hot cakes. We rented the garage in somebody’s home behind us, and we just stacked them up, floor to ceiling.”

After graduating from high school and heading off to San Jose State University in 1970, Jaime never expected to return to the furniture business. His dad knew better, telling him, “You’re going to come back, you know.” Time would prove him right.

Jaime met his wife, Evelia, at SJSU as a fellow student. Together they opened the first Rosso’s Furniture in Gilroy in 1979, a momentous year for the family because it was also when their first child, daughter Sarah, was born. Like his father’s first foray into furniture, this store, located on First Street, was only intended as a part-time gig. Jaime also worked full-time as a counselor at South County Alternatives, which later became Community Solutions. Evelia worked as an elementary school teacher for 30 years, the first four in Morgan Hill schools and then she continued in Gilroy.

Their furniture business took off faster than expected. The store made $30,000 in sales in the first year while open only weekends. Soon the Rossos found they needed to expand the floorspace.

“We opened the  Gilroy store (located at 6881 Monterey Rd.) in 1989. I’ll never forget that date,” Jaime said. “My brother was painting the front of the store when the (Oct. 17) earthquake hit. He fell off of the ladder.” Anthony Rosso survived the incident unharmed.

Many South Valley residents remember Rosso’s ubiquitous TV commercials from that time. Evelia and Sarah featured regularly in wacky telenovela-style circumstances.

“Evelia really became the face of the business,” Jaime said. “She targeted the English- and Spanish-speaking audiences. To this day people will joke about some of the things we did in our commercials.”

“Ah yes, my ‘boxing career,’” Evelia said, reminiscing about a particular series of TV ads. “People watched those for years — and sometimes I still get recognized.”

More than just business owners, the Rossos have also been passionately involved in the community. Jaime won a seat on the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2000. He served four terms until 2018. He has also been involved with numerous other organizations including the South County Youth Task Force, Leadership Gilroy, and the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. He also helped found the Latino Family Fund and the Gilroy Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Being on the school board was the highlight,” he said. “It was a labor of love. To be able to support our schools, our children, our community. To me, the No. 1 thing for a community is the support for its schools. It’s just vital.”

Jaime strove to improve the schools to make sure every student achieved their full potential and that every campus adheres to the same standards.

“The schools needed a lot of work,” he said. “Once we built or upgraded one school, we had to bring each school up to the same standard. When we built a school with a multipurpose room, for example, all of the elementary schools got one. We established those standards and made sure everything was equitable and fair.”

For the couple’s ardent commitment to the community, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce recognized Evelia as Woman of the Year in 2019 and Jaime as Man of the Year in 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Rosso’s Furniture got hit hard, as were many other businesses. The difficulties for their store started the couple thinking about retirement.

“We had to do a lot of reevaluating,” Jaime said. “It was a wild ride that everybody was taking. We’re not unique to it. It forced us to reduce our overhead, cut costs, and begin to function more efficiently. In that way it was a blessing in disguise.”

A part of the stores from childhood, Sarah feels ready to take the reins.

“I’m excited, a little bit nervous, but at the same time very optimistic,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve always said, ‘One day, I’ll be the boss.’ I knew this is what I wanted to do. I know the ins and outs of the business from shadowing my parents and Mary Aguirre, who was a big inspiration for me.”

Now retired, Aguirre was one of the store’s first employees. A “fanatic” about furniture display design, her contributions to the stores left a lasting impression on the Rossos. It also set Sarah on the path to a continuing passion for interior design.

O’Malley will join Sarah in taking over her family business.

“She’s amazing,” Sarah said. “We’ve worked together before. She has done a lot of design projects with us, and helped us redesign our showroom. We’ve known her for quite some time, and I always thought highly of her. We both have our strengths. It’s a great balance.”

“Sarah and Melissa complement each other,” Evelia said. “The fact that Sarah found a partner and they so well complement each other is amazing.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill resident and freelance reporter.