As of this writing, the stock market is in a swan dive and most of us are referring to our retirement accounts as our “201(k)s.”  The U.S. economy is shaky at best, and the rest of the world is using the “R word” — “recession” —in casual conversations. It’s belt-tightening time on Planet Earth.

And yet many homeowners in New Orleans are still rebuilding after that nasty storm, and some are downsizing. Others just want to upgrade or change what they have and not break the bank. Where are the bargains?

The New Orleans area is fortunate to have a few very good consignment shops and funky, offbeat dealers who cater to those who are decorating on a shoestring. If you are patient and have a good eye, you can find some real treasures. Here are some favorites:

Renaissance Interiors. Located in a nondescript building in Metairie, Renaissance Interiors is the oldest and largest consignment shop in metro New Orleans. It’s also a favorite of local collectors and antique merchants and perfect for those who like to browse. Inventory rotates quickly, so if you see something you like and can afford it, buy it immediately. “Chances are if you find a piece that you think is a good deal, someone else will think the same thing,” says Larry Mann, a co-owner.

He’s right: I once found a large, elegant buffet that I knew was a steal and went home to measure my space. When I returned the next morning, the piece was sold.It’s rare, but sometimes pieces stay on the floor awhile, so prices drop 20 percent every 30 days. Check the date on the price tag, and subtract accordingly. Buyers find gently used 20th-century furniture; high-quality European antiques; vintage pieces; art; and lots of smaller items such as china, silver and collectibles, most priced at 50 percent of Magazine Street store prices and light years less than the French Quarter.

Renaissance Interiors has a loyal customer base from Dallas, Houston and metro New Orleans. “We have locals who walk in three times a week,” says Mann. “They know what they like, and if they come here often enough, they’ll find it.”

Dop Antiques and Architecturals. Holland-born owner Michiel Dop bases his business in a corrugated tin warehouse near Crabby Jack’s on Jefferson Highway. Despite its modest surroundings (a plus in keeping costs down), Dop Antiques has some wonderful European antique furniture and a large selection of architectural details such as stained glass, shutters, mirrors and ironwork. Dop also has a room off to the side of the warehouse that has very interesting outdoor urns, lighting, French bistro sets and pottery.

Like Renaissance Interiors, inventory turns over quickly, and Dop receives a new shipment once or twice each month. Prices are very good, especially if you don’t mind a little ding or dust here and there. “Our pieces are from Europe and come straight from the boat to the warehouse,” Dop says. “We aim at fast sales.”
Here’s a tip: Sometimes there’s a little wiggle room in the pricing, so don’t be afraid to ask for a better price. You might not get one, but it’s worth a shot! Also, Dop will custom-paint any piece to change the look, so ask about that service, as well. He can turn a boring, simple table into a Gustavian-looking piece that could fool a Swede.

Oops Designer Home Consignments. Tucked just off of Magazine Street in the lower Garden District is the city’s newest and smallest consignment shop, Oops Designer Home Consignments. Here buyers find high-quality antiques and fun retro pieces, some plain-Jane pieces and wonderful abstract art. “It’s a bit of a hodgepodge,” says owner Marc Levy.

Levy’s customer base runs the gamut from newlyweds to those rebuilding to a cadre of interior designers. The shop’s price point is higher than the other two shops. “We price our items at about 80 percent of what a Magazine Street shop would price the same item, but we look for only top-quality pieces and take our time,” Levy says.

Shopping is so relaxed that buyers often find Levy’s rescue dog, Baby, sleeping under the desk. There are no monthly markdowns; however, Levy will entertain a lower price and act as an intermediary between a buyer and a seller.

Oops also features top-quality draperies, some made by Levy’s wife, Katie Koch, and others left by customers on consignment. If you get lucky, you can save a bundle on these pricey items.

Since the economic downturn, Levy has seen an uptick in calls from buyers and sellers. “Buyers are telling me they are looking for bargains, and sellers want to turn antiques into cash,” he says. “It’s a good time for this business.”