On a hot afternoon, the wrtier stops by at Variety Hall Road and discovers a vintage bazaar devoted to furniture

“This road has been bustling with furniture shops since I was a child,” says Ananthan, the furniture store owner on Variety Hall Road. Ananthan’s shop is 15 years old, but he says it is a baby compared to many others here. “You walk further down this road and you will come across shop owners who have been doing business since the 70s!” he says.

One such store is Elite furniture that began in 1972. Rose, the manager-in-charge, says it was Antony, her father-in-law, who started the shop. From a small rented building, their outlet has now grown to a double storey showroom which sells wooden, steel, rubber wood and imported furniture.

“In the beginning, there were just four or five shops. Gradually, more traders came to this place. Now, there are at least 40 furniture shops here.”

Variety Hall Road houses the oldest furniture bazaar in the city, with shops set up by businessmen from Rajasthan, Punjab and Kerala who made the city their home in the early 60s. “My family had a textile business in Punjab. I was 15 when we moved to Coimbatore. The weather and the business opportunity brought us here,” says Vinod Kumar, owner of Pioneer Furniture.

Most shopkeepers here do retail business, says K.J. Hussain, owner of Rolex Furniture that started in 1985. “Initially, we used to do wholesale business. But, traders from outside would not pay ready cash. Our credit mounted and we ran into heavy losses.”

Chairs, sofa sets, cots, tables, cupboards, dressing tables and revolving computer chairs stand cheek by jowl with vehicles. A few shops specialise in cane furniture and plastic chairs. Senniah Gowder’s C. Katheras and Co is amongst the oldest shops.

Owner Shailendran says that the cane comes from Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Assam. “It is a labour-intensive business. It takes at least two days to make one piece. That is why it is expensive.” Elegant lamp shades, cosy sofa sets and stylish tables made of cane are displayed in his shop.

Colourful plastic chairs in pinks, greens and blues are stacked up at The Smart Home Furniture. Kumar, the manager-in-charge, says that there is a high demand for plastic furniture now. “No one buys steel or wood anymore. Foldable steel chairs, which were once a rage, have disappeared from the market. People want light stuff, in attractive colours and designs.”

They also have imported table sets, children’s study desks, and rocking chairs.

There is a high demand for imported furniture now, says Rose. “There are many takers for our Malaysian cots and tables, made of rubber wood. Because people move around more and live in smaller spaces, old teak and wooden cots are no longer in fashion.”

The bazaar wakes up at 10 in the morning and closes down by nine at night. By mid-noon, all the owners go out for their lunch break. However, there is no rest for the customers, who brave the hot sun and hop from one shop to the other, to strike a bargain.

The makeshift thallu vandis parked outside Delight Theatre that sell lemon juice, fried fish and mango slices sprinkled with salt and chilli powder make their job a little easier.

There is a huddle of auto and truck drivers in front of each stall to deliver the furniture. As soon as a customer steps out a store with his purchases, the autowallahs make a beeline for him.

After an exhausting haggling session, they decide on a fare and depart.

Since there are so many shops here, the competition is quite high, says Joseph, owner of City Furniture Mart.

“The customers get furniture at affordable rates. And, they can bargain!” Manikandan, a corporation counsellor, has just finished with his day’s purchase. He has been faithfully coming here for the past five to six years.

“In other shops, they refuse to bring down the rate. Here there is space for negotiation. Moreover, there is something warm and personal about the shopkeepers here.”