You walk in, arch your eyebrows and think: “No way—this cannot be a secondhand shop. Everything’s new.” Then a tall woman with lots of hair pops up from behind the desk, smiles and gently assures the bedazzled visitor that, yes, this is indeed a consignment store. A very nice consignment store.
“Welcome to Abode,” says Olga French, co-owner of the stunningly beautiful shop on Route 108. “I get that look from a lot of people who come in. They tell me that everything looks so fresh and new, it’s hard to believe we’re a consignment store. That makes me feel good.”
Part of the amazement may come from Abode’s address. The store seems ill-suited in its location, a stone’s throw away from a Pizza Hut situated in what looks like a large parking lot of sorts. “People do seem to find us,” says French, making room for a box of newly arrived items.
opened in September 2009 with French and her partner, Bonnie Dovell. Both love design and decorating. Both love quality furniture. And both have extensive experience in managing design stores.
But their tastes and designing styles are miles apart, which makes the store interesting and a topic of conversation.
“It’s just full of surprises,” says shopper Sal Klein from Bel Air. “And who doesn’t like surprises?” Klein says it’s obvious that there are two distinctly different designs going on, but that’s part of the draw.
“So many of the stores you see these days ... well, they all look alike. They have either the same thing or nothing interesting,” he says.
The initial draw for French was her dedication to recycling. “When you look at the huge amounts of plastic that encase even a small dish, you think, 'What is this country going to do with all of this stuff but take it to the landfill?' We have fine quality furniture that’s not made in China, so why can’t we ... why won’t we reuse it?” she says.
Her husband, an environmentalist, has certainly had an impact on her views, she admits. But having worked in traditional retail stores, witnessing the packaging issue firsthand, has made her even more aware.
French, admittedly, leans toward the more modern pieces and enjoys mid-century modern (’50s and ’60s).
“I like simple lines ... pieces that denote relaxation,” she says.
Her partner, meanwhile, prefers antiques, reproductions and some Victorian pieces, as evidenced by vignettes in parts of the store. It’s a small store with every inch filled. And yet there’s no clutter.
A vibrant yellow occasional table sits by the door waiting for its new owner. Customers stare admiringly, echoing oohs and aahs. “Can’t sell it,” says French. “The woman is coming this afternoon to pick it up.” There are rugs and pill boxes, couches and room dividers, glasses, trunks, vases and art from another time.
The store is full of sad and joyful memories, French says.
Sometimes, when things are slow, she says she just looks around and reflects on the stories of items and the people who bring them; a recent widow who must downsize, a family leaving the area, a passing, a new life, a different life—all kinds of reasons for consigning.
Consignment stores are often confused with thrift shops. They are different in that thrift stores take in used merchandise that is given and resold to the general public. Consignment stores are often more regimented because they have contracts with customers with whom they split the proceeds of the sale (the percentage varies).
Resale is a multi-billion dollar annual business, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. While many traditional stores have closed, resale stores have held their own, enjoying a 7 percent growth. There are 30,000 resale and thrift stores in the country.
Some consignment stores are specialty businesses and sell certain types of merchandise. Abode consigns and sells only home furnishings and accessories.
Although there have been others, Abode is currently the only such consignment store in Columbia. Abbington Accents, another home furnishing business on Red Branch Road, closed in 2010. The space was massive and offered a mix of reproductions and consigned items.
Rave Reviews, once located on Freetown Road and now closed, consigned women’s clothing and was short-lived. Greenberries is a consignment store located in Kings Contrivance Village Center that specializes in children’s items.
Cookie Reese, who lives in Brookeville, is a frequent store browser. “When I come, I feel like I’m visiting a friend’s home,” she says. “I’ve been in a lot of consignment places, but they’re nothing like this. It’s cozy. You can see the pieces. You have choices—jewelry, pottery, dishes, tables. You don’t want to leave. You want to be here ... around all these magnificent things.”