Home > Archive >LA Times profiles New Orleans Rug Dealer
Author:jc
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Thu, Sep 29th, 2005 02:56:09 PM
Topic: LA Times profiles New Orleans Rug Dealer

(ed. The following story appeared in the L.A. Times. Reading it we cannot help but comment it is rug dealers who have attitudes like bob rue has that have given the Oriental Rug business a bad name. While RK.com believes in capitalism, we also know when people are in trouble and need help beating them down for extra profit is not exactly laudable. Maybe mr rue could pay fair market pricesto the unfortunates who lives have been turned upside down (Lord knows we would, were we in that position) instead of gloating like a looter and rubbing his hands together in expectations of all the money he will make. Pretty lousy commentary on human nature, and not only greedy dealers in the rug business, as far as we are concerned.)

Rug Dealer Sitting Pretty
New Orleans merchant Bob Rue gained fame by staying behind when the water started to rise. Now he has a Plan A and a Plan B.
By Thomas S. Mulligan,

NEW ORLEANS Bob Rue, renowned locally as a wit and bon vivant, figures he has two ways to make a pot of money in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Plan A is to leverage a book deal out of his sudden but probably fleeting international fame as the author of a series of vaguely sinister but funny anti-looting messages that he hand-painted on storefronts around the city's ritzy Garden District in the first days after the storm.

Plan B, decidedly more hardheaded, plays to another of Rue's strengths as a long-established Oriental rug merchant with an enviable address on St. Charles Avenue.

The idea is to buy top-quality antique rugs from wealthy but cash-strapped storm victims and flip them for two or three times the money to dealers in Beverly Hills, Midtown Manhattan and other decorator-rich environments.

"I'm tired of being rich and famous. I want to make some money," Rue said, stealing a quip he said he heard from New Orleans music legend Art Neville.

Rue, 59, has been posing nonstop for TV interviews in front of the rude warning to looters on the front wall of his store, located next to one of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. Sometimes on camera Rue wears a floppy harlequin hat. Sometimes he brandishes a broken old claw hammer. Always he drops an amusing line about Mardi Gras or gumbo. He is Mr. Local Color.

That's all Plan A. Rue said he could easily fill a book with tales of how at the peak of the flood he'd stood in his doorway with a rod and reel, vainly trying to land two fat redfish that were splashing in the shallows of St. Charles Avenue. Or how he'd spent one humid night sitting alone on a patio with a pen and notebook, naked, creating literature about the Merlot he was drinking, but the prop wash from the big Chinook rescue helicopters overhead kept blowing out his candles. There's lots more like that, he said. Make him an offer.

Plan B, which doesn't involve funny hats, almost takes care of itself.

"This town is all grasshoppers and no ants," Rue explained during a much-interrupted interview this week inside his still-unlit, un-air-conditioned showroom, surrounded by piles of rolled-up old Oushaks, Bijans and Ferrighan Sarouks that he'd hoisted onto tables and stacks of wood pallets to keep them out of reach of the floodwaters. As it happened, the water crested on the sidewalk a foot from his door.

On top of an antique Chinese tea cask lay a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver that Rue said belonged to his girlfriend. It was loaded but unfired, he said. His fishing rod leaned against the wall by the front entrance. He was wearing dirty gray denim shorts with lots of pocket flaps.

Rue, who grew up in Clearwater, Fla., said he learned to read carpets from Turkish and Armenian immigrants who worked for his father's rug-cleaning business.

He arrived in New Orleans on a football scholarship to Tulane University, where, as a 210-pound nose guard, he was stuck on the bench. He kept his scholarship by signing on as team manager. With his background, he said, he already knew how to launder towels.

Rue assumes he will see a lot of carpets in the coming months. In the wake of the hurricane, many of the owners of the million-dollar wedding-cake houses along St. Charles Avenue are going to need liquidity and fast, he figures.

"By the time they get their kids into new private schools, fix their roofs, tear out their electrical systems and clean up all the mold and rot, they're going to need cash," he said. "Stuff is going to come piling in here."

Many will be dropped in his lap by Garden District patrons, but he also plans to advertise in newspapers in New Orleans; Baton Rouge; Jackson, Miss.; perhaps as far away as Meridian, Miss.

Depending on the level of selling interest, he may lease a van and take a northern swing through the Gulf Coast area.

Rue intends to buy only the finest pieces, nothing wet or damaged, but even at the sharply discounted prices he hopes to pay, it will take a lot of cash. That's why he was on the phone this week looking for an investor to back his play.

"The more cash I can get, the more rugs I can buy," he said.

He finally cut a deal with longtime acquaintance Mois Refoua of Caravan Rug Corp., which has a showroom on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. It took a while for Rue to convince Refoua that he was actually standing in his store in downtown New Orleans. Like everybody else, Refoua had heard that the city was shut down.

In a telephone interview from Beverly Hills, Refoua praised Rue for staying open or at least in the city after the nine or 10 other New Orleans carpet dealers he knew had fled: "He's the man who stayed with his business, and we salute that. We will support him by any means possible."

Rue said he was happy to partner with Caravan because they have pertinent experience.

After Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, Rue said, Caravan "got a point man in Florida right away, so they know how to do this."

Post-disaster opportunism has a venerable tradition, Rue said. He recounted a years-ago conversation with the late Henry Stern, a well-known New Orleans antique dealer: " 'Bob,' he told me, 'I made my fortune on the Hurricane of '47. I had a bunch of cash. After two weeks, the old ladies came in and started quietly dumping their stuff on me.' "

Rue said that when he was 12 years old he hit a miraculous last-inning home run to win a Little League baseball championship.

For years afterward, people in Clearwater would come up to him and ask if he wasn't the Rue boy who'd hit that home run.

"I thought my life had peaked just then," Rue said, "but I think this is going to be better."

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