M&M Antiques & Collectibles vendor and employee Jayne Morse organizes items on Friday, June 16.
M&M Antiques & Collectibles vendor and employee Jayne Morse organizes items on Friday, June 16.

A group of niche business owners believe their products can help turn Monroe into a destination for shoppers. 

Ten vintage and antique businesses have opened in downtown Monroe as of 2017. Instead of concentrating on the competition, employers and vendors take a collaborative approach to promotion.

Melanie Bryan, who owns M&M Antiques & Collectibles on North Lewis Street, has had a storefront in the city for 14 years. She said this is the highest number of similar shops that have operated simultaneously since she started out.

“I am not worried, I think it is good to have a lot of stores — I think it brings in more people,” she said. “The more, the better.”

Bryan said the number of stores has ebbed and flowed over the years; when she first unlocked her doors there were even more than there are today, but at a point only one other was open.

Leslie Willmann, co-owner of The Junk Sisterhood, agrees more options are not a bad thing. Having many stores can actually help turn a city into a destination. Choices increase the likelihood that not only local visitors will be drawn in, but people also will travel from around the region to rummage, she said.

Variety also helps. Willmann said while there is some overlap, the stores all offer different products.

“We do have some of the same things other people do, but our style is very different,” she said. “People will like what they like and figure out their favorite stores, but basically our customer base is kind of the same.”

Many of Monroe’s stores have operated for years. A handful have opened up on and around Main Street within the past six months. Most shops are marketed as vintage, or boutique-style. A few sell antiques.

Willmann said the difference is in the products, which usually comes down to age; Vintage is anything is older than 50 years. An antique is anything older than 100 years, she said.

Staci Scheffer is a vendor whose Whackadoodles and Wanderlust products are for sale in the home décor store Vintage & Rust. The vintage and antique community is extensive. Interest is high on a national scale, she said.

“There is a vintage community — I would almost call it a sisterhood, since stores ever became,” she said. “I say there is a definitely its own oikos (economy). It is our own little world. Everybody is on the hunt for the next greatest thing.”

Scheffer said the local community helped her leverage a home-based business into something marketable in stores. She said she had been looking for something to do in her spare time that would yield more income.

Scheffer now calls her craft of jewelry making, repurposing garden markers and creating giant dream catchers a “hobby job, because it is my passion for sure.” It doesn’t pay all the bills, but it buys groceries and helps fund her child’s sports activities.

Scheffer started out selling at the Monroe Farm to Table farmer’s market and online a few years ago. She met other business owners, and some that already had their own shops. Building those connections, and receiving encouragement from that community, helped her decide to grow her business.

Willmann also came from small beginnings. She and her family sold their products at different pop-up shops last year. Bryan said she got into the business because she wanted to sell refurbished antique clocks, but no existing stores wanted to display her products.

All three owners have an affinity for purchasing other people’s junk.

“We love doing it (shopping) — even when we didn’t have a shop we would still do it. We are just kind of junkers,” Willmann said, later adding, “I love stuff. I love finding stuff. My mom would always drag us around to different thrift sales, and to the Pike Place Market.”

Bryan still regularly goes on the hunt for the next gem, or has pickers search for her. Some items she keeps for herself, and some she will put on the shelves.

Aside from a variety of products, each store offers different aesthetics. Owners take a different approach to their displays.

Scheffer said some owners chose to lay out their products like a bazaar, with sections for each vendor. Others scatter the creator’s items throughout the room. Vintage and Rust owner Brittany Johnson collaborates on placement with her vendors, but also maintains rights to the final say, she said.

“It is like a family — everybody knows everybody pretty much,” Scheffer said.

That same joint effort carries over to outside of the storefronts. Vendors and owners have hosted classes, events and different pop-up shops over the years. Many advertise and support each other on social media. Scheffer said the courses she has held at Vintage and Rust have brought in new faces from as far as Mount Vernon.

A new map designed by Junk in The Ol’ Trunk has also been of assistance. All downtown shops worked to design a flyer that is available in each store. So far, they are touted as a success.

Willmann said she gives them out every day. Scheffer said she is the map’s biggest cheerleader.

“I absolutely think it is beneficial, I think that was such a wonderful idea,” Scheffer said. “It shows our community that everybody is on the same page.”