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Front Porch

'Disposable' furniture? Not here

Published May 12, 2006

BRANDON - Back in the mid 1990s, when Marge Zachary first opened the doors to her upscale consignment furniture shop on one of Brandon's oldest and busiest streets, she had no idea that the trend would someday take root and shape a generation of shoppers.

"I've had customers come to me over the years who've done their whole houses from here," says Zachary, an interior decorator who commutes to Brandon from her home in South Tampa's Ballast Point neighborhood.

Her store, Mulberry Street, nestled along Parsons Avenue just off State Road 60, stands as a monument to the willingness of consumers to buy used furniture if it is both high-quality and unique.

Now celebrating her 15th year in business, the store offers an eclectic assortment of furnishings and accessories, from antiques to contemporary items. Zachary even carries original artwork, prints and sculpture, from traditional hunt scenes to vivid tropical oil paintings that quilt the walls and stand propped against the front of the 2,800-square-foot shop.

At 65, Zachary, elegant, willowy and wearing black, says she has no plans to retire. She still travels extensively to acquire furnishings and art for the business she has run since her husband died at 56, right around the time she opened the store. The couple owned restaurants for years, including the Paw Paw Tree in Pasco County.

Zachary, who has since remarried, believes it's possible to do anything "if you really want it. It's all about desire," she says.

She pays such attention to trends in the business that when a client brings in a piece of furniture to sell, she can tell what store it came from and what they paid for it. Unlike a lot of consignment stores, she doesn't reduce the price of items on the selling floor because she believes that if the piece was good enough for her to consign, "the perfect buyer is out there somewhere."

The store, named for the 1937 Dr. Seuss book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, offers an assortment of enchanting stuff that catches the eye of the highly visual Zachary, who believes that design is "all about balance."

A quick tour of the shop reveals a cache of everything from a pair of handsome leather recliners to bathroom sinks in antique-style cabinets to bedroom sets to marble-topped bars and breakfronts to a solid mahogany armoire. Accessories include a 1930s chandelier from an old Miami Beach hotel, to a good-looking bearskin rug to a large bronze elephant sculpture. A late 1800s china cabinet made of red oak is carved with angels, tigers and mermaids and stands on ball and claw feet.

She draws customers from all over Florida and the Tampa Bay area, but her Brandon customers tend to nurture more traditional tastes. She stocks plenty of large-scale furniture for oversized rooms with high ceilings, but also makes space for furnishings for her Seminole Heights clients, including a carved, more delicately proportioned French provincial living room set upholstered in ivory.

Coming into the shop "is a real treasure hunt," she contends, with a willingness among clients with eclectic tastes to "wait two years to find the right piece."

"We have people walk in and say, 'This is awe inspiring. I can finally create the look I want in my home,' " says manager Kay Watson.

Though the store cannot compete with bigger retailers with splashy offers of financing, it offers a good old fashioned layaway plan, free storage for 60 days (Zachary maintains 3,000 square feet of warehouse space across the street) and reasonable delivery.

In an era of "disposable" furniture and large chain stores, it takes a special customer to shop consignment - but there are plenty, Zachary says.

Scented candles and her lamb-faced poodle, P.J., give the store a poshness that two decades ago might not have worked in a used furniture store.

No matter how much money people have to spend, she says, the desire for an eclectic look transcends income and has more to do with "savvy, time, talent and a knowledge of how to put things together."

[Last modified May 11, 2006, 14:08:40]

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