When customers enter Canal Furniture Liquidators' (3534 Toulouse St., 482-6851) dim, expansive warehouse, they're often overwhelmed by the huge collection of sofas, lamps, tables, desks and chairs.
"People can get lost in here for hours," says Flora Schulkens, daughter of owner Louis "Vico" Marziale. "But believe it or not, I practically know everything in the store. You learn to know your merchandise."
When shoppers find themselves at a loss for where to begin, Schulkens often helps them find the perfect piece. She's helped people new to town furnish an entire home. "We'll go through the store, and I'll say, 'Tell me what you need, and we'll figure out a price for you,'" she says.
Canal Furniture's selection includes mattresses, glassware, lamps, antiques, desks, bed frames, pictures, televisions and chandeliers. The bulk of the inventory comes from hotels, Schulkens says, but the store also buys estate furniture and restaurant and office furniture from businesses that are remodeling or going out of business.
"We have absolutely everything from shower curtains to pots to curtains to fabric rods," Schulkens says.
By purchasing in bulk, Schulkens and Marziale keep prices affordable. Sofa sleepers start at $59, chairs start at $39, and framed pictures are $5-$10. The store also offers layaway and delivery service. Schulkens stresses the quality of the merchandise, and she says she won't sell a piece in need of repair.
"If a chair comes in and it's broken, we won't sell it, but if it's a quality piece of furniture we never ditch it," Schulkens says.
After 43 years in the furniture liquidation business, Marziale's reputation for a quick turnaround continually gets him contracts with hotels, ensuring the store is a revolving door of new items. Marziale is 86 years old, and though Schulkens suggested he ease into retirement by working part-time, he still comes into the store every day.
"This is his baby, and he loves wheeling and dealing," Schulkens says. "He loves talking to the customers. He has more stories about New Orleans. He knows this city backwards and forwards."
Schulkens grew up in the store and has worked there since her mid-20s. A lover of furniture, Schulkens admits parting with certain pieces can be difficult.
"Once in awhile we'll get a beautiful bedroom set from the '60s, and I won't break the set," Schulkens says.
Schulkens says she's looking forward to the busy months of sales that late summer brings when students and teachers move to town.
"I like [the store's] energy," Schulkens says. "I love that it's never boring — each sale, each item is unique."