Twenty-six years ago, Karen Gross and Marg Lambert cut the ribbon to an Atlanta location of the maker-to-market store known as Ten Thousand Villages. Together, they sometimes traveled to retreats related to this business. On the way, they would stop at antique shops. Marg collected vintage kitchen utensils from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, and Karen just enjoyed searching for treasures.
“I really didn’t want to accumulate more stuff,” Karen remembers. “How much more clutter does one need?”
Eventually, though, Karen and Marg saw an opportunity; they rented a small space in midtown to sell the vintage kitchen items they had collected. They outgrew this space in just a year, moving next to East Atlanta to rent a space in what used to be an antique mall. After a few years, Marg decided to move on due to time constraints.
“I no longer had her checks and balances,” Karen joked, citing this as the reason that she started collecting and reselling larger items such as furniture. As her collection grew, she recognized the need for more space. She and a fellow “antiquer”, Linda Corra, purchased a space to store and refurbish their collection.
Now Karen, 67, and Linda meet up for a full day each week to work in the warehouse that they share: painting, refinishing, and upcycling. Plus, they spend a few hours searching for products to add to their collection. They each rent a booth at Kudzu Antiques in Decatur.
Kudzu Antiques is located a short walk from the Avondale MARTA station, near the popular DeKalb Farmer’s Market. Kudzu consists of about 80 vendors who rent space from a single shelf to a full booth to sell vintage and antique items. The store gets so many visitors that there’s a waitlist for vendors.
Why does she do it? First, Karen loves the hunt. She finds a certain thrill in finding something fun or surprising. Second, she often turns a decent profit on a resold good. Finally, she recognizes that she is helping to keep stuff out of the landfills. Often, estate sales and yard sales have hidden treasures that just need a little tender loving care.
“It’s grown into a treasure hunt,” Karen notes. “In fact, it’s an addiction in some ways. You keep collecting, but the more you collect, hopefully the more you sell!”
The gig comes with perks: with the extra cash that they pick up, Karen and Linda sometimes travel with friends to go antiquing. “It’s a hobby that pays for itself!”
Karen believes that her hobby is a great one for older adults. In addition to her travel, she has saved a little extra for retirement, purchased a vehicle, and remodeled her bathroom. “There’s a fair amount of people who are doing it as seniors,” she has noticed. “The oldest guy [selling at Kudzu] might be in his late 80’s!”
Over the years, Karen has become better at determining what will garner interest from potential customers. “You learn as you go along.”
Once, Karen noticed a pair of sunglasses in a thrift store that looked nice. After purchasing them for $1, she discovered that they were worth more like $150. “I wouldn’t sell them for that much”, she said, but she does occasionally find deals on items worth 5-10 times or more what she paid for them.
It’s important to do your research first, as it can be easy to overspend or be tricked into buying a reproduction instead of the real thing. Normally, she can tell if something is just a reproduction, as they are often lower quality. Sometimes, an antique that used to be rare starts showing up a lot – and that normally means that there are reproductions infiltrating the market.
For example, in the past, green glass from the depression era had been in vogue, which led to lower quality reproductions appearing in the market. For some people, this isn’t a problem; they just like things that look older. Technically, an antique is over one-hundred years old, but she also sells mid-century and vintage items.
Regardless, Karen noted that the trends change over the years. On PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, items that were appraised on the show in the past will sometimes be re-appraised, to shockingly different results. Occasionally, certain antiques will appreciate (and depreciate) significantly in value.
“You only get what people will pay for it,” Karen reminds us. This perceived value can change dramatically over the course of a decade, but that’s just part of the adventure!