Monday, April 11, 2011

Shop Talk

What I did during my blogging vacation: Among other things, got all entrepreneurial and stuff. Really.

Our slow process of cleaning up and clearing up our home and adjacent buildings made us realize that we really needed to do something with the collection of estate-sale items that Fellow Traveler has collected over the years. We've never had much good luck selling stuff on eBay or Etsy. When we tried selling a few vintage items at our last garage sale, we discovered that the local folks are just too poor to care; they were interested in my old beaten-up college-era casseroles and silverware, not the items of value to collectors. Meanwhile, some of our favorite television programs -- the pawning/antiquing/picking genre -- was making us want to visit some estate sales and "junque" emporia.  We just need to find the right people, we thought.

One weekend we decided to wander into the local antique mall. This was once a department store, the pricier one in town, back when I was a kid. It had three stories, which was pretty impressive for our little town. My frugal parents hardly ever went there unless Mom needed some special dress or Dad ventured into the sporting-goods section for hunting gear. Anyway, when it, like most small-town department stores, went out of business, the owner turned the building into an antique store, renting out booths to collectors.

I can't recall why we went inside -- I think just to see if we could find some deals; FT has an interest in antique marbles and toys, while I collect hen-on-nest covered dishes. But as we wandered from booth to booth, we noticed an empty corner. "The stuff in our garage would fit in there," murmured FT. We looked at one another. "I wonder what the rent is."

As luck would have it, Skip the store owner -- a rather dapper and genial 80-something -- happened to be in the store that day. We asked him about the rent. We found out that it wasn't very much -- and that we could reduce it substantially by working in the store instead of simply selling our wares there. We also got the impression that he thought FT and I were interesting, knowledgeable and responsible -- perhaps even likeable.

That next Friday we moved in.

It's been about a month now. And while at the time I felt somewhat equivocal about taking on another life responsibility -- I find I really enjoy it. I love opening the store in the morning; wandering up and down the stairs switching on an insane assortment of light switches; putting the sandwich board out on the sidewalk and hearing the zap of the neon "Open" sign as I plug it in.

I also enjoy being in the midst of good-quality antiques and collectibles from a time when craftsmanship was valued. Skip runs a rather tight ship when it comes to vendors' displays; the place is neat and tidy, not like an episode of Hoarders, and contemporary garage-sale flotsam-jetsam is kept to a minimum.

And I enjoy dealing with the public. (This is one reason that I was content to slum in a bookstore far longer than I should have been after my university education.) It's fun for me to talk to visitors from other communities and promote our area -- the other day I wound up drawing an "Amishing" map for one downstate couple looking for a reason to drive out in the country. And you just never know who is going to walk through the door and what they want. One day it was men's old shaving razors -- we sold three of them to different people. (I later read in the New York Times Style section that personal "mantiques" of the 30's-60's are a trending thing among decorators and collectors.) One day a woman was ecstatic to find a googly-eyed coconut monkey for her backyard tiki hut. We sold our amberina pattern glass canoe to a fellow for whom this one thing had become a magnificent obsession; he already had 30 of them, he said; he wasn't interested in collecting anything else; he just liked glass canoes.

This is, contrary to what you see on TV, not a way to make a living. This past month we paid our booth rent with enough left over for a pizza, and that's it. But it's fun. It's exercising some of my marketable-skill muscles after a long holiday. It's also reawakened the collecting urge in me; I'm thinking of maybe upgrading my rather pedestrian assortment of hens-on-nests to include one of the really choice Atterbury glass-eyed chickens, or pursuing an interest in collecting/trading in young women's books of the fin-de-siecle and 'teens -- those brave, smart and subtly feminist heroines of books like Polly Goes To College and the old Campfire Girls series.

It beats sitting on the sofa watching American Pickers, anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is good to see you posting again. I'll be praying for FT's health issues.