Owning a Small Business is Crazy. Crazy Awesome. Or, Adventures in Adult Day Care

A year into this, I’ve been thinking a LOT about everything. What I’ve done right, what I need to improve on, what I just outright suck at. The ever pressing question of course is how to stay afloat, grow the shop, and not go totally bonkers in the process. I’m still learning, every day. So, I wanted to take a second and verbally mumble in typed words (possible?) some thoughts on this past year, small business ownership, and the crazy and crazy wonderful people who I’ve met.

Of course there are no words to really describe- I mean how could I possibly explain the things I’ve witnessed? I have seen it all, from the rich and lonely treasure hunters always pushing for a lop sided deal though they can afford the sticker price- to the lowest fallen of society, still picking their way along the totem pole- always making enough to make the next score, or pick up the next pack of shit smokes. It’s a never ending circle, and as much as it wears me out, there have been the highlights. I’ve had shirtless, stolen bike riding bottom feeders trying to make me a killer deal on satchels full of stolen Bic lighter covers- to dumpster divers with keen eyes that respect that sometimes treasure and another man’s trash are kissing cousins.

I’ve met some absolute whack jobs, and although I need to get better at asking the real tweakers to leave, I can’t help but stay silent, thinking that is actually something kind of special that they come to stare and obsessively comment about every-effing-thing-imaginable-and-some-things-unimaginable. Hey, I might just have a new shop tag line: ‘Kenton Antiques: Even Tweakers Need a Place to Feel If Not Necessarily Welcome, At Least Not Immediately Rejected.’ Some of them really are sad, the nostalgia that inevitably hits at some point in an antique store is particularly hard on them- you can almost see the cracks all over their ‘trying to erase it all’ lives. I can’t understand where they are or why they got there, but I can empathize with the unsolicited raw emotion that occasionally peaks through.

My most recent visitor, and one of the most notable highlights was Bob. He came in about an hour after I closed. Probably about 75, he was teetering rather shakily across the street, so I didn’t hesitate to let him in. He mainly wanted to sit. Sitting turned to chatting, which turned to an incredible tale of secrets, aliens, body guards, and the possibility of consigning some furniture. I don’t know what was true and what was the progressing onset of dementia, but it was the most fulfilling talk with a complete stranger that I have had in quite some time. We bonded over Tom Hartman and Air America, and the fact that we both have seen UFO – granted he’s seen far more than I have. It’s still just the one for me. But, I’ll be damned if that experience didn’t make me feel the true magnitude of how singularly tiny we are; how miniscule in the grand scheme of things. It was refreshing. Like my conversation with Bob. And, I’m fairly certain I may not ever see him again, and if on the off chance I do, he probably wont remember me or our conversation. Secretly, I hope he does remember…

I’ve met people and been able to connect on a level I think is fairly rare. Learning what compels people in this sort of tide pool of lost memories, what stirs connection, is like getting to know an amazing secret.  I’ve seen a woman burst into tears over a Fisher Price toy, that triggered what she believed was her earliest memory- staring up from her crib as her mother sang the song while the little blue bird she was holding tentatively warbled along when you pulled the frayed cord.  I’ve heard “I remember that” muttered, whispered, and joyfully intoned countless times. I’ve come to think of what I am doing when I go out “picking” is actually searching for lost connections, hidden meanings. Little postcards from the past that reach out from the shelves and isles of this dusty and always just shy of organized oasis and find just the person to trigger a reaction in. I’ve become much more careful in what I select. I am most connected to items that stir some distant recollection in me. I chase that feeling every day, the intake of breath, stirred by an object you didn’t remember a half second before, that now seen, is as beloved as your last recollection of it.

I also have gotten to meet some of the most interesting and wonderful people I’ve ever met. From the occasional stop-in who trades the awesome toys that he collected for years, for the credit to let his Ghostbusters collecting young son indulge in the same desire – to the charming, attention span lacking, always cheerful man (who brings me beer no less) who has two radical young daughters, who actually come in because they enjoy the experience they have, not just with the shop, but with me. There are all kinds of people that make me a regular stop, always looking for the thing they can’t live without, and even though they don’t find it every single time, it’s enough to keep them coming back, chasing their own feeling under my careful and hopefully satisfactory curator-ship.

This past year, I’ve truly felt what it is to live, and love something so all consuming that everything else seems to pale in comparison. The need to sleep disappears almost completely, though the beleaguering fatigue can drag here and there. The desire to work more than 10-18 hours a day is surprisingly high. There is a general ability to ignore the unpaid bills, the creeping hunger, the overwhelming anxiety and to still wake up wide awake and ready to get back to it. The unknown is constant and constantly invigorating in a way I never really felt was possible. I certainly imagine that this is what Parenthood is like. This shop is this child, this product of myself that I am trying to nurture into maturity, trying to give the momentum required to see it blossom into its own strange beauty- familiar, yet with a precious life all its own. Maybe it will even get good enough to turn a profit someday. ;P

This life is incredibly trying and wonderfully rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

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Where’s the damn romance?

So, we’ve been open since November 2009, but the shop has been around since 1998.

I’ve worked tirelessly to recreate the store as our place. Our, being mine and my wonderful friend and business partners, but also ‘our’ being the place I want to share with you, and you, and so on.

I wanted to create a place where anyone can feel at home, where everyone can find a treasure they ‘can’t live without.’ I want a place to help the neighborhood pass their family treasures on to new homes and where I can unload the items I find that I can’t bear not to show you- to share my passion with discovery.

I know that the historical idea of the antique shop is filled with dark corners and cluttered isles- stacks of items waiting for the adventurous soul to dive in and get lost. I don’t want to lose that narrative in my shop, but I do want to make the space feel inviting, more open- more accessible to you.

Everyday I struggle with the question- ‘Is it working?’ And every day I ask myself, ‘How do I get more people in the store to see what we’ve created?’

Of course my livelihood depends on passing on treasures to you, and I’m probably a bad business owner because I’m less concerned with profit and more concerned with the extraordinary life of inanimate objects, but I believe in my heart that it’s exactly that extraordinary tale of antiques and vintage items that drives me to want to communicate the beauty I see with other people.

Every item that comes into the shop is imbued with a history- whether it’s 30 years old, or 130 years old. Every item is still an open book waiting to be picked up, lovingly dusted off and thumbed through. Everything is waiting to be reborn in your life.

The idea of rebirth is something I think about at the shop. I feel like I was handed the keys to a legacy, both good and bad, and every waking moment I spend is consumed with the idea of how to rebirth the shop in my vision. I hold the legacy of Kenton Antiques dear to me, as I too was reborn in these walls. From customer to custodian…

Marketing is a strange beast to me. I embrace the idea, I understand the reasons, but I’m struggling every day to find the best way to market our shop and to get you in the doors.

I don’t expect you to buy something, but I want you to see the love and life that my shop is filled with. I’m not a junk shop or a thrift store, and I have a hard time understanding that label applied to antique/vintage shops. It’s not so much the connotation, but more the implication. Junk / Thrift have much more utilitarian meanings. History is gone, mere function remains. Goodwill  (for example) doesn’t care that the table was owned by one of the architects of the Chicago World’s Fair, it’s simply an item that you can buy, or not buy. Simply put, where’s the damned romance?

All that aside, what are your thoughts? You are my target audience. What gets your romance spot tingling?  What am I doing right? What would you like to see in the shop?

Also, any awesome shop names? I’m thinking American Pawn Picker Roadshow. ;P

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Antique store or metaphysical body shop?

Since watching the amazing documentary Home Movie several years back I’ve wondered what effect objects play in people’s personal understanding/recognition of ‘home.’

The age old addage “Home is where the heart is” is a wonderfully sentimental concept, but I think that the home is also the heart inside the exo-skeleton of material posessions.

What interests me currently is how much power is imbued into material posessions during their life in your home.

I own an antique store in N. Portland with my wonderful friends, and I am lucky enough to be the face of our business. As a result, I’ve developed an intimate connection with the objects that come into my shop and I must admit that I think about them far too much. I believe it an incredibly fascinating life that “posessions” lead.

Consider that an item comes into my shop after having lived a full life elsewhere. It has been a major artery or a minor bone in someone/s home, present regardless of status, use or condition for countless events in their life. Is it silly to think that it is possible that these items have absorbed some part of the “heart” they give structure to? Is it possible that these items, upon arrival in Kenton, carry with them an energy that then in turn contributes to the exo-skeleton of my temporary home at the antique store?

I ask because recently a very cool coincidence occured at the shop. Personally, I think it might be slightly more interesting than mere coincidence…

A local gal that has been coming into the shop over the last couple of months came in last week after I had completed the ‘big remodel.’ She wandered into the new Ladies Lounge for awhile and came out having fallen in love with a gorgeous 1912 Bird’s Eye Maple dresser set that has been in the same family since it was originally purchased. She chose to make the dresser set her first “big girl” purchase, which I was delighted by as I still remember fondly my first “big girl” purchase- an awesome teak sideboard which is within eyesight of me even now.

(Sidebar: This is totally where the story gets radical to the max!)

I invited the gal to pick a couple of pieces of art to go with the set if she wanted. She enthusiastically informed
me that she actually had fallen in love with a couple of pieces. I asked her to show me, curious, because the room is decked out with some great art! Anyhow, she immediately pointed out two different pieces hung in different spots. The only two pieces she choose were the only two pieces in the room that had actually come from the same family as the dresser set!

(Sidebar #2: omgwtf! amirite?)

All of the art in the room was chosen because of aesthetic similarities, so there was absolutely nothing that screamed connection between the two pieces and the dressers.

Also interesting to note is the fact that the set and the two pieces of art are my chosen favorites in the room- a fact I didn’t mention until after all this unfolded.

I’ve been thinking about this ‘coincidence’ since the weekend. Some part of me feels that there is something larger, more nebulous than coincidence in play. Perhaps the exo-skeleton of objects was carried over not just into me and my connection with them, but also to the woman who will soon bring them into her home, heart.

I feel that my shop’s role as temporary shelter for objects may come with unseen responsibility. I like this idea, so instead of passing this experience off as coincidence I choose to take on a deeper stewardship for this possibly more meaningful movement of energy.

Maybe the idea of “posession” is more complex than just physical ownership, and just maybe physical objects carry with them more than just their ‘bones.’ Perhaps the heart in home is more than just people.

Or perhaps I need to sleep?

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