Salvaging every season

Rebecca Johnson keeps landfills empty by keeping the inventory evolving at Vintage Hardware.

How did you first get interested and involved in the field?

“I met my business partner, Paul Tuter, at a flea market. He made furniture out of reclaimed pieces and I was an upholsterer by trade and we just hit it off. We had a connection with our professions, just having that love for antiques and repurposing is what got us to collaborate about starting a business for architectural salvage. We saw a need for it in Astoria with all the historical homes. We thought we could be a source for people looking for replacement parts for their old homes and those interested in putting salvage in new construction rather than having to go to Portland.”

When was your first year in business?

“We started around 2008-2009.”

Is there a seasonality to your sales?

“Yes, definitely. We really are tourist based. However, our cash flow doesn’t stop after the tourist months because locals are our bread and butter.”

What’s the biggest challenge?

“Staffing and volume control (the amount of people that come into the store) would have to be the biggest struggle. When we’re impacted by cruise ships, we’ll see volumes of people at one time, and that’s what takes some balancing.”

How does the business compare today to when you first opened?

“It grows every year. Last year with the move and then the winter weather, when we didn’t have a lot of visitors coming into town, was very detrimental and had a big impact. We’re fortunate to have a sales increase every year.”

Have there been any lessons you’ve learned through experience?

“Lots and lots. Retail is very surprising. I don’t know if there’s a recipe to understanding it. I guess that’s the beauty of it — it keeps you standing on your toes. We try to evolve every week with our inventory. If it’s not bringing in new inventory, it’s readjusting to make the store a special visit and a new experience whenever anybody comes in.”

How supportive is the local community?

“Unbelievable. We especially felt the love and support from the community when we were having difficulty finding a new space to move to after Mo’s bought the building we were in. We were overwhelmed and just beside ourselves with the love and support. Vintage Hardware isn’t just our store — it’s a part of the community. We don’t just provide products, we’re providing a service by keeping things out of the landfill by recycling and upcycling. Sometimes somebody will bring something in and we’ll redo it and then their neighbor will buy it. It’s fun to see how these pieces, with a little facelift, keep evolving.”

What part brings you the greatest satisfaction?

“Number one is happy customers. Number two is when something we’ve created personally sells, it’s an affirmation that you’re doing something right and people like and appreciate what you do. And just the way the store is merchandised, we hope it’s an art form as well. Just being a part of the community and having an anchor store that makes our county proud, that’s important to us.”

How do you select what you will sell on your shelves?

“In this industry, we don’t ‘cherry pick.’ We don’t go out and just pick the best pieces out of the lot. We’re contacted via e-mails and phone calls every day. Usually it’s a situation where a person needs help to get out of inventory, so we pretty much amass all of it then we have ways of sourcing it out. We never go to a homeowner who’s trying to dissolve an estate and pick out the best stuff and leave them to deal with it all. I think that’s what has helped our reputation, because we’re there to help with the situation. We bring it all in, and if we can’t use it, we donate it or find people who can use it. But it all comes from personal calls and emails.”

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