All those West Bottoms warehouses chock full of pretty vintage stuff. Where does it come from and how does it get there?
Via vendors, of course.
As a rule, each warehouse holds one flea market, and each flea market leases space to dozens of vendors, more than 600 in all. (Some warehouses, like the Painted Sofa and Varnish & Vine, are one-vendor boutiques.)
And those vendors spend a good portion of their waking hours finding, fixing, painting, creating and artfully staging their merchandise.
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The first weeks immediately after the monthly First Friday sales are spent hunting, then turning the items into something to covet.
Gary and Sally Paredes, vendors at Good JuJu, work seven days a week to stock their space. They estimate that they spend 30 percent of that time shopping at garage, yard and estate sales, as well as auctions. The other 70 percent is spent fixing things up. Sometimes they find stuff on the curb, especially on days when municipalities do bulk pickup and residents put out their unwanted furniture.
“I found pieces of a table on a curb one time; I put it back together and got $200 for it,” Gary says.
“We see chests of drawers sitting out all the time, and they’re solid wood, so we stop and grab them,” Sally says. “We find old workbenches, and we clean them up and wax them and people use them as kitchen islands. Garage sales are OK, but you have to go to a lot to find just a few things. I really like estate sales because I can get a look at a lot of things at one time.”
She steers clear of estate sales advertised as high-end and goes for ones that say “years of accumulation.”
“I’m not proud,” Sally says. “I want to dig. Find treasures. You have to go in stinky bad basements.”
Mel LeFevre, a vendor at Hello Sailor, also works full time getting ready for the monthly sales.
“It’s something you have to prepare for,” she says. “I bought things I loved when I was dealing antiques. Here you have to watch the market. I watch Joanna Gaines (on HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper’) and her Magnolia Homes to see how she’s interpreting things. I watch the trends. I watch ‘American Pickers.’ I watch HGTV. I get every shelter magazine imaginable to see what’s new.”
LeFevre’s style trends toward industrial, so she gets calls from people clearing out factories and warehouses who have things like carts and worktables that she and her partner repurpose into bar carts and kitchen islands.
“For a long time I felt like people just emulated each other,” she adds. “Now they want something that’s their own.”
A lot of thought and elbow grease go into rejuvenating pieces. There have been a few pieces Brenda McCord, a vendor at Hello Sailor, was sad to sell, but for the most part she doesn’t get too attached to her merchandise.
“If I like it that much I’ll put it in my own house,” she says. “But my house at this point is … if something comes in, something has to go out. I have people send me pictures of my stuff in their homes or they come back and tell me what they did with it, and that’s fun.”
Typically, vendors spend the final week or at least final few days before First Friday weekends getting their spaces ready. Some warehouses help vendors with staging merchandise so it tells a story or illustrates ways to display it at home. Pam Kenney and Penny Sweeney, owners of Good JuJu, hold staging classes for new vendors, then scour their spaces before the doors open to ensure they have enough stuff for two days.
“Sometimes they only have enough for two hours. They’re not ready,” Kenney says. “We’re not open on Sundays because it tends to look like a bomb went off, and we don’t want that to be the first impression for new shoppers.”
The Paredeses pack Sally’s SUV and Gary’s pickup truck with backup merchandise so they can quickly restock.
“Usually by 1 or 2 on Friday, it’s almost empty,” Sally says. “I’ve already gone to my car multiple times. I went last month at noon to get a sofa table and was carrying it in when a customer stopped me and asked, ‘Is that going out? I want that.’ I took it straight to the cashier stand. It didn’t even make it in.”
Bryn Chaney, owner of Hickory Dickory, encourages her vendors to create stories when they decorate their spaces.
“A lot of times, customers don’t know what to do with merchandise, so they will come in and buy the entire vignette,” she says.
Vendors at Bottoms Up Antiques focus on authenticity. Their spaces are full of upscale vintage items and antiques from as far away as Europe, all artfully arranged as though ready for a magazine shoot.
One of those vendors, Cheri James, calls her space “Cottage Affaire” and describes her merchandise as “shabby elegant” or “rustic chic.” Her space is stacked with vintage cake stands, porcelain dishware, crystal glasses, tea cups and other old treasures atop antique furniture. It looks ready for a princess party.
“I like French, English and old American dishware,” she says. “When I started I had a booth at a popular antique mall, and I thought I had it great. Now I sell more in one weekend here than I did all month there.”