One Mans Junk…..

by Peggy OKelly on April 5, 2011

There was no brand strategy meeting in Y2000 to determine the look of our retail stores.  There was the day that I was sitting in the middle of an empty 3,200 sq. ft space, flat broke, ready to open, with product of course…but nothing to put it on.  My dogs were there so I’m sure they might have had input…but in the end…it was the spirit in the space that drove me to the run down lot under the bart train…across from the police station…in my home town…Oakland, CA.  It wasn’t a place for the weak hearted…or the unarmed…but I went in nonetheless…because if one needed to scavenge…it was just the place.

The entrance was like that of a prison.  The gate was open but there were circles of barbed wire  that were so low that I bent down as I walked in.  As I came up out of my bend, I was greeted by a very large man who didn’t seem interested in providing the ultimate customer service experience.

I said hello and he grunted as I headed into the rows of old metal desks, broken windows, mirrors, tables, chairs, sinks, bath tubs, etc…  My heart began to beat faster as I spotted some treasures…some metal tables and old work benches…industrial wire baskets…I thought I might have hit the jackpot but there was no pricing so I wouldn’t know until I asked my friend at the gate.  I dug deep and began moving in his direction.  I moved closer but he never looked up.  I quietly excused myself and he slowly turned his head until his eyes met mine.   I asked him if I could get the pricing on some of the items.  He was totally inconvenienced but he got up and started walking in my direction.

He warmed up as we walked throughout the wreckage and I pointed out my finds.  He shared the stories of where the things came from…how he started the business….and the stresses of the high end salvage yards going after his junk.  He didn’t know how long he could last because he couldn’t pay the prices that they were paying.  I shared my story and my budget of $1k to fill a 3,200 sq foot retail space….he looked at me and told me that we could do it.  I believed him.  He immediately began pulling stuff out of sheds, determined to fill up my store.  I began to get nervous because my pile was now a truck load…and I reminded him of my budget.   He smiled and told me not to worry about it…it was junk after all.

When the last metal table was pulled out of the shed, we agreed that we had enough.  He tallied the bill and handed it over to me with a smile.  $600.  I looked at him and smiled…I wanted to offer him more but I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate….so I thanked him and gave him a big hug.

I made a few more trips back to his yard but he was never working and I couldn’t find another treasure that made sense.  The third time I went back,  it was gone….all boarded and chained up….without a trace of what had been.  I pulled to the side of the road, checking all of my reference points to ensure that I hadn’t mistaken the location.  I was in the right place…it was no longer there.  I stared at the walls for a while with sadness in my heart.  I wondered if he was surviving…if someone was as nice to him as he was to me…and for a moment I wondered if he was ever there at all.

I don’t remember his name…I’m not even sure if he ever gave it to me…but I remember his spirit and feel it every day when I walk by his pieces in our Rutherford location.

So, no, we didn’t get our look from Anthropologie….and we don’t have an interior designer or a brand strategy committee…we simply listen to our heart and are lead to kindred spirits who become part of who we are…whether it be our olive or lavender growers, our pasta sauce producers, or the keeper of the gate….we are all in it together and for that I am grateful.

Here are some pictures of my latest hunt in San Francisco…..

It’s crazy how much we pay for these old wine bottles.  When we lived in Italy, they told me they throw them into recycling!

Rusted metal steals my heart every time.

Old dishes from France…I’m going to start collecting one at a time for the store as they aren’t cheap.

I’ve started putting gifts in these old tins…better then wasting paper and a truly unique look.

I can spend hours looking through these shelves.

Always hard to leave treasures behind but there is so much the truck can hold!

I rarely can afford things from the following place but it’s always fun to dream…..

I kept coming back to these chairs….hmm…..


I gave in to a closer look….love the color….would look nice at my table…good thing they won’t fit in my car.

The only thing that is missing is Captain Jack….

I love the energy in old books…and with these baseballs…what stories they must tell.


Say goodbye ladies…..






{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Khajavi April 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Hi Peggy,
I love this post. I all those items could talk…..
Also, very nice look and feel to your site!

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Heather Hamilton April 6, 2011 at 10:57 am

Oh Peggy – I always enjoy reading your blog and “getting in your head” for a few minutes. So refreshing…

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Jen Dwyer April 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I loved your post! So perfect in it’s honesty, realness and that you found a kindred spirit in that man.

So get this, I used to take bart to Clorox all the time from SF when I was working at DDB (the ad agency). We went over that very yard and I went crazy looking each time. I would sit at the window on the left side of the train just so I could look at his things in the fleeting few seconds that we passed over. I vowed I would find it and go there, but living broke, in a small apartment at the time, well, somehow I never made it.
I remember the day that I rode bart in the window seat on the left side and saw that it was gone. It was such a shock, my insides screamed, “NO!!” I was devastated and couldn’t breathe. It was like a friend I hadn’t met and now it was gone. He had the most amazing things, I was heartbroken.
I can’t believe that that very place is where you furnished your shop. Unreal. I loved that place, and I never even set foot in it :)

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Jenny April 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm

What a great story Peg, maybe that guy was an angel (or just a very cool guy) and God certainly had an appointed time for you to receive all your treasures – your place is spectacular and your story makes it that much more special. BTW Jake was Captain Jake Sparrow and his mom crafted a very clever indoor treasure hunt for his rainy day birthday – reminds me of your Captain Jack (:
Have an awesome time in France – love & prayers…
xo Jen

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Mom April 8, 2011 at 7:03 pm

What a wonderful story, Peg. I hope all of your writings will someday take book form. You are having an interesting journey and that is because you are an interesting daughter and I love you.

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