Penn larocci is a born and raised New Orleanian. After graduating from Tulane University, she lived in NYC for nine years working in sales in marketing at an investment bank. When she missed New Orleans more than she could stand, she moved back home, met her husband and started a family. She’s now raising two rambunctious little boys and spending her free time on environmental sustainability projects.
If you lived in New Orleans in the 1990’s and liked to shop, then United Apparel Liquidators was likely at the top of your short list of favorites. A bargain lover’s Xanadu, the 10,000 square foot clothing store (which anchored the former Rosedale Mall) was dripping with “liquidated” (deeply discounted) designer digs. A seemingly endless overflow of high-end garments was scattered about in a maze of racks you wanted to get lost in forever. The visual chaos enhanced the experience and brought out the competitive spirit in the best way possible. There was always another treasure somewhere to be found, you just had to want it badly enough! It was so blissfully entertaining and after chatting with the co-founder, Melody Cohen, it’s now clear to see why that design was completely intentional. On a recent phone chat with Melody, she offered, “I made the party happen! We wanted our store to be a happy store; the customers, the employees, the vendors, everyone.” She was routinely in the store selling and entertaining while her husband and business partner, Bill, went out and found the deals. “In the early days, I’d wait up for him after a long sourcing trip and he’d pull in the driveway with a trunk full of treasures! I never knew what was going to be in there! It was such fun.” It’s undeniable that with their combined skills, Bill and Melody created a sweet spot – offering up solid deals in a fun, spirited environment. The enduring spirit of the store lives on even after the flagship Veterans location was lost in Katrina. The company now boasts nine locations (and growing) scattered throughout the South. Melody tells me during our phone interview that she recently lost Bill. The love for both her life and business partner of over 40 years is palpable. Her voice beamed with adoration through the phone as she proudly proclaimed, “He was the brains, and I was the muse!” Whatever the combination. It is certainly magical to this day.
How did you develop the idea for the business? Melody: After running a retail business together in Pensacola for years, we learned the logistic and financial challenges of selling retail garments. We figured, why not focus on a different part of the business and bring the liquidation aspect directly to the customer? It really wasn’t being done at that time.
What is one of your favorite items of all time that you’ve sold? Melody: A pair of Christian Louboutin slides (with the red bottoms)! I wanted them so badly, but I knew a customer would covet them even more, so I never took them! I feel like I get to shop vicariously through my customers.
When is the best time to shop at UAL? Melody: Monday and Tuesday are the best times to go. The earlier in the day, the better. You have got to be an opportunity buyer! It’s usually feast or famine.
Do you consider yourself a sustainable business? Melody: Yes! We didn’t really plan it that way but it’s true. We were the original up-cyclers!
Why is it called United Apparel Liquidators? Kind of a serious name for such a loose, fun place! Melody: We’ve thought about changing the name over the years, but Bill always said, “We cannot change the name. We don’t ever want to forget what we are. We are liquidators.”