Remember that song from the seventies, “Every Kinda People,” that Robert Palmer* sang? It popped into my head this week & now I can’t get it out. “It takes every kinda people, to make what life’s about, yeah….” It was a catchy tune, even back then, but now it’s stuck in my brain! Usually when that happens to me, besides being incredibly annoying, I’ve come to learn in my adult life that it is the universe’s way of sending me a message. And usually I attempt to not let it bother me, and instead, make an effort to figure out what the world is trying to tell me. After much contemplation this past week, I realized it was a reminder very similar to the nudges I’ve been receiving from friends, colleagues & family for years now to write about the humorous encounters I’ve had with a kaleidoscope of folks from my antique adventures. I’d always promised to so but hadn’t written a thing to date. What a better way to start the new year than to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for some while. And what an even better way to start the new year than with a smile on my face! Gosh, when I got to thinking about all the interesting people & exchanges I’ve had over the years, I started to lose count. So I narrowed my list down to the top 5 people who, for now (I smell a sequel in my future), I definitely feel “make the world go ’round,” in a Robert Palmer kinda way! Here they are:
1. During the winter months I do most of the buying for my physical antique shop, stockpiling inventory so when I open my doors in the spring, there is plenty of new merchandise for those who have caught the antiquing bug after many cold New England months. I love, love, love re-arranging my shop, decorating it in new & unique ways so it is inviting & fresh for customers. This means a lot of heavy lifting, moving furniture, & making room for other antiques & vintage items. If I decide that some big piece has been kicking around for too long in my shop, I tend to throw it on Craigslist over the winter to sell it so I can fill my shop with new items or have a big, open space to fiddle with and arrange my wares. I’ve had really good luck with that, so it’s more or less become a habit now.
One year, I had few items listed there and a number of emails came in from interested buyers asking for particulars which I gladly answered. As is always the case with Craigslist, you also get a few spam emails as well, but they are easy to identify and I usually mark them as such and then delete. Well, one day, an email came in that I wasn’t sure exactly how to classify. All it said was, “YOU ARE A DEALER!!!!” Just like that. In capital letters, with all the exclamation points. I got the biggest kick out of that because there I was on Craigslist, in the dealer antique section, posting some things for sale like I always do. Open & shut case. I don’t know if this guy took offense at my choice of livelihood, or merely wanted to point out what was already quite obvious. Either way, he must have had some extra time on his hands & he clearly made use of it in order to share his expertise with me. The least I could do was send a response. So I sent him a message back that said, “Why, yes I am. Thank you so much for your interest!” Funny, I never heard from him again.
2. There is a couple in town, a husband and wife team who have been walking the roads & neighborhoods as long as I can remember. I actually noticed them the very first time I drove up to my house when I first moved here! As is the friendly, New England way, they wave & smile to me but always continue treading onward. They are most likely walking for their health & taking in the beautiful scenery where we are, both of which I highly applaud. After I opened my antique shop I was frequently in and out of the house working in my shop, so I would see them diligently walking even more than ever. I’d raise my hand in the customary wave, and they’d wave back but always keep on going. You can imagine my surprise one afternoon when, instead of taking a left up the hill from my house, they instead turned onto my driveway and walked right into my shop! We exchanged pleasant introductions & I told them how happy I was that they had stopped in & we were finally able to meet. They shared where they lived & a little about themselves, but then they were full of stories & compliments about the shop & house. After all, they had been walking by it for so long, they had seen everything transformed literally before their eyes! “Mrs. Walker,” as I call her, was especially interested. She wanted to know all about the shop, how I had gotten into antiques & accumulated so many lovely things, how the business was going, what I liked & disliked about it, etc. She browsed all around the shop asking questions & examining a variety of old items. For about 20 minutes we had such an enjoyable conversation, so I was completely bewildered when she paused for a significantly long minute and then asked sincerely, “So……what do you do for a living?” At first I thought she was joking but then quickly realized she was serious. I was more than flabbergasted, to say the least. I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or scratch my head and I had absolutely no idea of how to reply. So I just spread my arms wide open and responded, “Uhhmm…this!” as I gestured to the entire shop around me. She looked at me and blinked for a number of seconds and then quite unmistakably, I saw the light go on in her eyes! “Ahhh!!! Of course,” she said. “Of course….” she said again quietly, almost to herself. It was an awkward moment through which we both smiled uncomfortably. I’ll always remember how cute it was, in a gawky sort of way, and that’s what makes it so memorable.
3. I came home one afternoon from running errands to find a signed, blank check stuck in my front door. Now THAT doesn’t happen very often! It was either my incredibly luck day or something strange was afoot. When I got into the house, I was certain it was the latter because my cat Ellery zoomed to my feet with her familiar, concerned expression & pacing behavior she exhibits when something has occurred to rock her peaceful existence. Being the window watcher that she is, she must have witnessed something outside that simply was not ok, in her feline opinion, and she was there at my feet letting me know. At quick glance, nothing seemed grossly out of place or curious on the premises, so I turned to the check for further examination. It bared a name I did not recognize and there was no phone number on it. Even the address, although it was from a remote area close by to here, meant nothing to me. It was quite puzzling. As I was about to pick up my phone to call a friend for her opinion, it actually began to ring in my hand with an unknown caller, so I answered it! A gentleman’s voice on the other end of the line said, “Yes, hello……I’d like to report stealing something from your shop….” This was turning out to be the strangest day on record! “Who is calling, please?” I asked and the mystery man replied with the same name that was on the blank check! “Well I’m holding your check in my hand at this moment and I have to admit, I’m quite confused,” I said. He chuckled and explained, “I’m really not a thief, I left you a signed check you can just fill in with what I owe you.” I was so baffled at that point and replied, “But I don’t even know what you took!” “Oh….” he said, “it was the large, antique crock you had sitting outside of your shop.” I walked to the back door and looked out the window and sure enough, the crock was gone! I hadn’t noticed it was missing when I drove up to the house. That explains Ellery, I thought! She must have been in her favorite sunny spot in one of her baskets & spied this man taking the crock, which would have been no easy feat, I might add. It was a 30 gallon crock and the thing weighed over 100 pounds! It was so heavy, I’d left it outside my shop door rather than move it in and out with the other items I would set out as ‘eye candy’ for drivers-by when the shop was open. I never imagined anyone would steal it because it weighed so much. “I can see that now,” I told him, “and I have no idea how you managed to do so,” I said matter-of-factly. I was surprisingly calm given this bizarre situation, but I had learned long ago in this line of business that antiques somehow had a way of making the most interesting people crawl out of the woodwork! The thief/buyer chuckled again, “It was a bit of a work out trying to maneuver it into my car, I must admit! I just happened to be in the area and saw it as I was driving by. I knocked on your door but no one was home. I don’t come this way often so, on a fluke, I thought this arrangement might work if I left you a check. How much do you want for it?” he asked. “One million dollars!” I responded, without missing a beat. We both laughed heartily and then somewhat nervously he asked again, “No really, what is the price?” If this guy was going to steal my crock & scare my cat, I decided to have a little fun at his expense, no pun intended! “You do know I am holding a blank check with your signature on it. I can tell you any amount & always fill in another,” I jested with a feigned seriousness that I thought was pretty convincing. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “Well, yes….I realize I was taking a chance in doing what I did….,” he eventually stammered, uncertain what to say next. It was just too painful to continue this charade, so I exclaimed, “I’m only kidding, sir!!” I told him the actual amount for the crock and assured him that was the only dollar figure I would fill in on the check. He instantly relaxed and with another chuckle, told me more about himself and his plans for the crock. I learned he owned a popular restaurant in the trendy college town not far from me and wanted the crock for umbrellas and such in the restaurant’s entryway. What a great idea, I thought! He also indicated some other items he was looking for and asked if they were anything I might have in my shop. Perhaps it WAS my lucky day, because I actually did! So we brokered a deal on the phone & I offered to deliver them in person to his restaurant the following week…..and I did. How I managed to get an additional sale from this unlikely event was beyond me, but I was pleased, nonetheless. It truly had been one of the oddest transactions I’ve had to date, but as they say, “business is business!”
4. A few summers ago I received a call from a woman who was driving up my way for lunch with some friends & wanted directions to my shop so they could all do some antiquing together afterwards. When she arrived later that afternoon with friends in tow, she seemed a bit “put out” that my shop wasn’t as large as the photo had appeared in my online site & subsequently had it in her head that I couldn’t possibly have anything she wanted because it was “so small.” Okay, so she was a big city gal used to trendy streets lined with chic, bigger, fancy shops, I’ll give her that. Not everyone is accustomed to small town antiquing. Personally, I think my shop is lovely & not really that tiny. It is a small barn after all & packs in quite a bit of fabulous inventory given its less-than-large stature. Her friends, thankfully, seemed to feel the same way & they bopped happily about the shop & were already setting things to be purchased on the counter while she still was standing at the doorway huffing about my sweet, little shop. “Well….. but….it’s just so…..hmmpfff….the picture made it seem so big….really it’s very unexpected……” I’m not sure why, but I suddenly thought of my mother in that moment. I could hear her saying as she always did when I was young, “You don’t know unless you ask.” Maybe all this woman needed was a gentle push in the direction of asking for what she perceived wasn’t in my shop! So I interrupted her rambling & asked as kindly as I could, “What is it that you are looking for exactly? Perhaps I can help you find it.” There was silence as she looked at me blankly for a few seconds. I had obviously taken her by surprise & I had to press my lips together to hide my slight bemusement. “Well….” she began again with another breathy huff, “I don’t see any tea cups. Do you have tea cups?” I smiled & said, “Actually, I do. Let me show you.” So I lead her to three cups I had displayed & told her I had many more that were not currently out in the shop but I’d be happy to share them with her if she was interested. She viewed the cups & was pleasantly surprised to see an antique Limoge among them. Ding! Hurray for Antique Shop Girl! “Well, you don’t have any old thimbles do you? My sister collects them but you really don’t have them, do you?” she asked. I could honestly tell this customer was going to take a lot of convincing, so I hiked up my petticoats (figuratively, of course!) & I brought her to an old cornbread tin where I had many thimbles piled high in each slot. “I try to be creative where I place things in the shop, as you can see. Take your time & browse around.” I told her. She picked out one of my favorite painted glass thimbles & said, “Hmmpff, isn’t this a pretty one? I’ll take it.” Ding, ding!! Pat on the back for Antique Shop Girl! This back & forth game continued for a while, each time with the assumption that I didn’t have a particular item, & each time with me miraculously producing it. It was getting to be quite fun! The clincher was when she stated with much certainty that I couldn’t possibly have anything related to airplanes. Airplanes!!!! Goodness, I think she thought she finally had me in a corner & she almost did, however…. Somehow by the grace of God a family member had recently been to an auction & had come over to show me the parts to a 1940’s Cessna that he had scored there. He insisted on giving them to me thinking I could sell them in the shop. At the time I thought he was ridiculous. Airplane parts, seriously? “What in the world am I ever going to do with these??” I had asked myself afterwards, annoyed that I had not been more assertive & declined his offer. Today though, I had my answer!! I proudly showed them to this lady who, I must say, was absolutely floored! I kind of was, too, but it was wonderful!! And…..if that weren’t enough, I also showed her an old oil can I’d had kicking around for forever that was specifically for airplane engines…. & she bought it for her son! I really did smile very widely at that moment, I must admit. I just couldn’t help myself! Then, being who I am, I felt terrible so I threw in the Limoge tea cup for free! Although I had found this shopper to be rather challenging in a comical way, simply by being encouraged to ask questions, she had discovered a multitude of things in which she was interested. And in doing so, I also made a customer for life! She still calls me periodically to see if I have items in the shop that she & her son collect, or merely to ask for general antique information. Proof that mom was right. You just never know what an Antique Shop Girl has tucked away in the nooks & crannies of her shop & old home….unless you ask!
5. If you have ever sold anything online, then you must know the importance of having quality photographs accompany your item description. Shopping online is so very different than shopping in person where you have the ability to hold an object in your hands, turn it around, examine it closely, ask questions. Online shoppers have only your words and your pictures to rely upon before deciding to make a purchase. If you have done your job writing an accurate description of what you are selling in a manner that a shopper can relate to, then the icing on the cake is the photos you include to back up your written testimony about the item. The more pictures you can include, the better. In doing so, you have the opportunity to show your item in many ways – visually appealing shots with props suggesting how the item might be used or displayed, close-up angles to highlight the best parts of your piece, photos to indicate any flaws or damage it might have that you previously mentioned, taking pictures not only of the front but also the back and sides, and even presenting how it looks vertically as well as horizontally – to name just a few pointers. Not every selling venue offers the same amount of available photos to post per listing which sometimes is frustrating to the seller. Whatever the number, however, it’s important to make use of all the photos at your discretion to help encourage a sale. That being said, I can now share with you the final, and in my opinion, funniest interaction with a person I’ve had to date in this line of business: I love vintage advertising, old signage in particular. I always have signs for sale in my physical shop. They are usually prominatly displayed on my open doors where they provide impulse advertising for my shop to passers-by on the road. If they are also listed online, I strictly follow the above-mentioned rules, and always make sure to include whether the sign is double sided or single sided – very critical information for avid sign collectors. A while back, I had a sweet, porcelain enameled, hanging Sealtest ice cream sign on it’s original cast iron bracket for sale in my physical shop. I actually hung this one inside my shop so as not to damage my outer doors or have it blow in the wind. Given it’s bracket style, it of course was double sided so it could have been seen by customers from either direction outside a soda fountain shop back in the day. It had great patina and was so charming, I truly wish I could have kept it for myself. I also posted it on online that summer, as signage tends to draw interested folks out & into my shop! I was disappointed that I could only include 4 pictures in the listing, but hoped the ones I had chosen to post were good enough to generate a response. Sure enough, I received a few prompt emails mostly asking where & how it could be viewed. It was one of the last emails I opened, though, that stopped me in my tracks and made me laugh until tears rolled down my cheeks. It still garners the same reaction from me, even after all this time! The sender had merely asked one question, “If the sign only has two sides….why are there four pictures?” You simply cannot make this stuff up!
And that, my dear readers, is what makes life so fascinating and enjoyable……charismatic characters like these five individuals….the ‘every kinda people’ that truly make what life’s about!
* “Every Kinda People” performed by Robert Palmer from the album Double Fun, words & music by Andy Fraser, produced by Island Records in 1978.