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Adapting to the big-boxes

by Christine Ina Casillas /Daily Staff Writer

The opening of the big-box stores in May and July, and a slumping economy, had owners of some of the valley’s consignment shops somewhat worried that business would falter.

And some owners admitted that the first days of the grand openings of The Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart in Avon hit them with little to no business at all.

“The initial opening was hard on us, but after a few days we started to pick up again,” said Adam Haynes, store manager for The Thrifty Shoppe in Edwards. “It was a novelty to some people, but they must have realized the need to donate their stuff again. We’re a place – whether the economy is good or bad – where people are in need of getting rid of and buying knicknacks.”

Business at The Thrifty Shoppe seems to go up when the economy goes down, Haynes said.

“When it heads south, people come here for the better deals,” he said. “Shortly after Sept. 11, our sales increased. Now, the economy is doing somewhat better, it’s slower.”

Rob Rollins, owner of Grammy’s Attic in Minturn, said surviving in the valley as a small consignment shop will take adapting to change.

“You have to adapt to the community to be able to survive,” Rollins said.

“Run by emotions’

In 1988, when Grammy’s Attic opened in Eagle, it was one of the first consignment and antique shops in the valley.

“It wasn’t a normal business,” Rollins said. “It was run by emotions and feel, and it didn’t take a lot of money to start it. It was meant to be a consignment shop.”

Rollins’ mother, Lucy Baker, owned the store at the time.

“My mother was surviving at it, but she wasn’t prospering with it,” he said. “She offered me half of the business – and half of the debts.”

But Rollins was at a crossroads with his own life back then and taking over half of his mother’s business seemed appropriate at the time, he said.

“Now, I’m wholeheartedly involved in consignments,” he said. “It was the epitome of a mom and pop business.”

Rollins and his mother entered the business with no competition on any front. There were no other consignment shops and no big-box stores. The closest store that sold similar items was in Glenwood Springs.

Shortly after he started working with his mother, Rollins said, they attended schools and gave lectures on some of the products – anything to get people in the door, he said.

The store moved to Eagle-Vail, starting with general antiques off the cuff, and it eventually found a niche in the valley.

“Soon, my mom and I had different views with where to go with the business, and we ventured into other endeavors,” he said. “In order for us to grow economically, my mom held on to the antique part, and I took the every day furniture and brought it to Minturn 15 years ago.”

Adaption and competition

But then other businesses, such as Treasures in Eagle-Vail and The Thrifty Shoppe opened, providing that competitive edge for Grammy’s Attic.

“In the beginning, we prided ourselves on supplying the new kids in town with furniture and other items they needed to all the people in the valley,” Rollins said. “We had to transform the business because of the competition, so I let go of the consignment business two years ago.”

He didn’t push it. He understood the need for competition – and he adapted to it, he said.

“I’ve been in this business too long to be in it for the money,” he said. “I do it for rejuvenation as a person.”

Instead of buying and selling consignment furniture and other items, Rollins said he decided to go into bedding.

“It’s taken me the last five years to learn the business,” he said. “But I needed to develop that knowledge of bedding.”

While Rollins changed the role of his business, he said the other consignment shops provide friendly competition.

“I have adapted to the economy with the needs of my customers and the items I sell,” he said. “It’s the reality of competition, and our need to grow and renew as a business.”

For Treasures owner Lynne Schleper the competition is good.

“Before the big boxes arrived, there was nowhere to carry inexpensive lamps,” Schleper said. “Now there’s Wal-Mart.”

Competitive edge

Treasures carries a particular line of furniture brought in as antiques or last-years’ leftovers.

But with the opening of the chain stores, Scheleper said, “it actually makes my furniture look better, especially the unusual items I carry.”

“Now I don’t have to carry junky, inexpensive lamps,” she added. “I don’t have to carry the big, ugly things, increasing the quality of the inventory.”

Treasures doesn’t carry unfinished furniture, such as particle desks and bookshelves, she said. It also doesn’t carry bed linens, because “it’s so easy to go to Wal-Mart or Target to pick up good bedding.”

Yet the owners of the consignment shops all say they help each other out, referring customers to other stores if a product isn’t available.

And the owners all admit the competition is healthy – a survival of the fittest.

“In order to thrive in the valley, you have to have that spirit of survival in order to make it,” Rollins said.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at ccasillas@vaildaily.com.


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