HFA member Gerard Ruth is closing Gerard’s Furniture of Baton Rouge, La., and retiring—again.
Only this time, Ruth says it’s for keeps.
Ruth got his start in the furniture business driving a delivery truck and getting his neighborhood friends to help him haul mattresses for 50 cents an hour. That was 70 years ago.
Now, health issues are forcing him to shut down. “I ain’t going home to mope about it,” Ruth said. “I’m gonna keep on working. I’ve got to deliver all this furniture.”
This is the second time that Ruth has had a going-out-of-business sale. Twenty-two years ago, when he turned 65, Ruth brought in an outside business to help him sell off the inventory.
“I went home, and after about 10 days, I went stir crazy,” he told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate. “So I came back.”
Ruth, 87, still does business like he always did. His store doesn’t have a website. “I don’t text and I don’t email,” he said. “Just a few years ago we got a computer for bookkeeping.”
Gerard’s has a focus on high-end, American-made furniture made with premium leather.
“All that stuff on the internet, it’s like going to the (casino) boats. It’s gambling. You don’t know what you’re going to get,” he said. “Some of the leather is seconds, some of it is rejects.”
Ruth started working in the furniture business during his senior year at Baton Rouge High at Lloyd Furniture Co., then at 1126 North Blvd. After graduation, he attended Louisiana State University, then joined the Coast Guard during the Korean War.
In 1953, he returned to Baton Rouge and to his job with the furniture store, where he made $35 a week.
Gerard’s Furniture opened in 1966. There were three employees: Ruth, his wife Selma, and a bookkeeper. During the day, Ruth sold furniture in the store. In the evenings, he delivered the items he sold.
At that time, the hottest trend in furniture was Mediterranean- and Spanish-style furniture. A successful Atlanta furniture salesman visited Gerard’s Furniture and told Ruth he needed to get some of those items in the store to make it successful. Ruth told the man he didn’t have the money to buy the furniture, so he called a Virginia manufacturer and got them to ship three suites of Mediterranean-style furniture to Gerard’s on credit. “That really cranked business up,” Ruth said. “We sold the hell out of that furniture.”
A few years later, Ruth heard about a store on Florida Boulevard that was up for sale for $500,000. Ruth checked out the building at 7330 Florida Blvd. and decided to buy it and fix it up.
“It cost $2 million to restore the whole building,” he said. The loan was so big, it had to be split between CNB and St. Landry Bank in Opelousas.
The Florida Boulevard location of Gerard’s Furniture opened around 1975. The store won national acclaim for the completeness of the selection, which included furniture, art, fabrics, rugs and decorative accessories. One room is filled with George Rodrigue prints from the early 1970s. His son Larry has a gallery of original Louisiana art and prints in another part of the store.
Over the years, Ruth has had health issues, including diabetes and cancer. Recently, he was diagnosed with chronic lung disease. That led him to close the store after meeting with his wife and four children.
“I got outvoted,” he said. Because his children all have professional jobs, the decision was made to liquidate the business.
“I never got rich, but I managed to raise four children, send them all off to college — and not have to pay any institutions or lawyers to get them out of trouble,” he said.
Despite his years in business, Ruth said he decided overnight to close the store.
“My family would go crazy trying to figure out everything at the furniture store,” he said.
He made a point of helping his children and eight grandchildren find items in the store to help decorate their own homes.
Plans are to spend the next few months selling off all the inventory in Gerard’s. When everything is gone, the store will close.
Since announcing he was shutting down his business, Ruth said he’s seen a boost in customers. The day after it was announced he was closing, 500 people showed up at the store. The next day about 400 people were there.
“We had them come in from 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago to buy things on our sale,” he said. “It’s been rewarding.”