The picker, the junker, the buyer, the seller

Two Tyler women entrepreneurs who each specialize in vintage furniture and housewares describe themselves by many titles: pickers, junkers, buyers, fixers, collectors.

In East Texas, thanks in part to Canton — the world’s largest flea market — big business is made by sanding and repainting tables, pairing bird baths with statues, collecting wasps nests and creating inviting store presentations.

The Tyler Loop met with Ethel Grimes of Ethel’s Treasure Quest and Jodi Miller of Vintage and Company to learn how they began their businesses, what they look for to sell and who their primary customers are.

Ethel Grimes of Ethel’s Treasure Quest

📷 all photos by Carol Thompson

Born in South Carolina and raised in Pennsylvania, Ethel Grimes landed in Tyler in 1991 on an act of faith. 

“My story is definitely a God story,” Grimes said.

She and her husband and son sold most of their possessions with plans to join a street ministry in Florida.

 “We packed up our car like the Beverly hillbillies and left,” Grimes said.

The plans to relocate to Florida dissolved, and Grimes and her husband searched for alternatives, eventually moving to Tyler. Money was tight and a new family member would be arriving soon.

“I was seven months pregnant with my daughter,” Grimes said. “I’m walking over here on Erwin Street and I saw it said flea market, so I walked in. There’s nobody in the building but one vendor.”

What happened next would set Grimes on a new trajectory.

 “The man just started asking me, ‘Do you want to rent a booth?’ Finally, I said, ‘Can I rent it to have a yard sale?’ because I knew I needed to make $600 [to cover the midwife’s fee to give birth to her daughter].”

For years, Grimes sold children’s clothes and toys. In 2005, when she procured her location at 731 North Bois D Arc Ave., she changed her focus to home interior decorations.

Ethel’s Treasure Quest advertises as “rusty chic.” Grimes’ store boasts dozens of curated vignettes of all things vintage and worn.

 “I like rusty things, I like tarnished,” Grimes said.

Her store is a study in muted palettes, mostly off-white. “I don’t like a lot of color, honestly,she admitted. 

Grimes discovered an intuition for finding, pairing and presenting objects for sale. 

“It’s almost like it just comes natural. It’s something that I didn’t realize that God had given me until all this happened, and then it just came out,” she said.

Grimes said although she sells items to Tyler residents occasionally, her largest clientele are from Dallas and Louisiana. 

“Really, 95% of my business is to other other sales dealers,” she said.

In addition to overseeing Ethel’s Treasure Quest, Grimes makes monthly trips to Canton to sell her goods.

 Grimes said the constant flow of Canton shoppers makes her monthly visits worthwhile.

 “It’s a short span of time … and the volume of people at Canton, especially Friday and Saturday, is crazy,” she said.

Grimes attributes her business success to God’s intervention.

 “I just showed up, and look what happened.”

Jodi Miller of Vintage and Company

Vintage and Company’s Glo Tjoelker, left, and Jodi Miller, right, prepare for their next barn event this weekend.

Born and raised in Tyler, Jodi Miller fell in love with buying and selling vintage while hunting for furniture to display merchandise for Pine Cove Christian camps.

“I started buying old tables and dressers to use for display. And I realized ‘bingo!’ That’s what I really love to sell,” she said.

Miller’s background in marketing and retail helped her know where to begin when she and her parents, Pete and Glo Tjoelker, purchased a barn 16 years ago and began Gresham Barn Sale, which Miller now calls Vintage and Company at 10101 FM 2813.

Miller said she wears many hats as she prepares for her vintage sales. 

“Some days I am the picker, the junker, the fixer … some days I’m the buyer and the seller,” she explained.

Miller conducts annual event sales at her barn in April, October, and November. In addition to the Vintage and Company barn, four to six other vendors sell their wares in two large tents on the property.

“We’re like a mini Canton,” Miller said. Also, Miller has two pop-ups at her home each year around Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July.

Miller describes her style as classic, southern and sturdy.

 “I like to buy what is currently selling. In every industry, there are always trends. What I sold 16 years ago is not what I’m selling today,” she said.

Miller said presentation is the most defining quality of her sales and what sets it apart from an estate sale or a flea market.

Vintage and Company’s buyers range from high-end antique sellers to children with pocket change.

“We are very affordable. Our prices are probably a quarter to $1,200 — in that range. We sell to a lot of generations,” Miller said.

Miller said her job may look glamorous, but it’s hard, physical work.

 “Most days, I have on a t-shirt and leggings and … my hands in paint,” she said.”But it brings me so much joy when I’m out shopping and … a customer will come to mind … and then they come in the barn and they buy that piece.”

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.