A warehouse full of treasures

Vendor: Linda Featherman owns Chic & Unique, a furniture consignment shop in Columbia.

Howard Business

July 23, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Chic & Unique looks like home - lots of other people's homes.

That's because that's what it is. The consignment warehouse, around the back of a building in Oakland Ridge Industrial Park, is a business of gathering other people's Victorian sofas, crystal chandeliers, framed French posters and lace potpourri sachets, arranging the items into the perfect living room, and selling the pieces to the masses.

Since owner Linda Featherman opened 18 months ago with only a few antiques, she has expanded her warehouse space, growing from 2,800 square feet to nearly 6,000 square feet in a year. The company has about 2,400 items.

"The biggest part of the beauty of the business is I didn't have to tie up money in inventory," she said. "And the stuff that people want to get rid of is incredible."

Featherman has taken advantage of one of the latest trends in resale retailing - furniture consignment, and the response has been gratifying for her and hundreds of others nationwide.

About 15,000 consignment and thrift stores are open across the country, and furniture consignment is becoming a hot sector, according to Patti Acquisto, president of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops.

"The furniture has brought in thousands of new customers," Acquisto said. "People who would never look at previously owned clothes will come to look at furniture."

The reason for popularity in furniture consignment varies, Acquisto said. Some is a national conscience for recycling, while some who use the shops to sell their goods like the idea of getting money for an item they no longer wanted or had room for.

But for shoppers, part of the appeal is the merchandise. As has been the case in clothes consignment, many of the furniture consignees, like Featherman, specialize in upscale items, rejecting worn-out and poor-quality items. The well-kept used furniture sells for less than similar items sold new, Acquisto said.

"The people are shopping here because they're tired of being gouged by department store prices," she said. "People would rather buy a 40-year-old dresser that's solid wood than some pressed-wood thing with the back of it stapled on."

In most furniture consignment shops, visitors find far more than hand-carved mirrors and inlaid dining tables. The resellers carry all types of home decor, from lighting to linens.

Featherman's store is in a warehouse in Columbia, but never has a warehouse looked so good. With a background in interior decorating, Featherman created a store atmosphere with only a tiny investment of her own - a few silk ficus trees and track lighting overhead.

Much of the other lighting is provided by the consigned chandeliers and table lamps. Funky sculptures, paintings and wall hangings decorate the landscape of armoires, entertainment centers and tables. Even some of the floor coverings are consigned area rugs.

Many of the small pieces - candleholders, napkins, candy dishes - can be bought for as little as $10, but much of the furniture is priced in the thousands. One piece of art, a Raku sculpture of a warrior on a horse that adorns a wall near the store entrance, sells for $12,000 - the store's highest priced item.

Some shoppers visit from time to time, browsing for must-have items.

"I'm just looking for unique things at good prices," said Darla Sando of Catonsville, who was shopping with a friend. The pair stopped over a small painted table, and looked through artwork for bargains.

"What makes you feel that it's a bargain is because they reduce the prices periodically," she said.

Karen Hancock was in the store recently checking out an old wicker chair. She had purchased an antique writing secretary about a year ago.

"It's kind of like the Antique Road Show," she said. "You never know what little treasure might pop up."

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