Take your pick: Where and how pickers in Chattanooga find their treasures

Where and how pickers in Chattanooga find their treasures

Staff photos by Cameron McKeon / The entrance to the East Ridge Antique District
Staff photos by Cameron McKeon / The entrance to the East Ridge Antique District

As Helen Warrender, owner of local shop Mostly French, puts it, the title of picker "doesn't sound very nice."

It may sound a bit harsh, but a quick Google search tells you that antique picking is "the art of buying antiques from auctions, sales and people and selling them at a profit to antique shops." So for those ill at ease, picking is nothing but an innocent hobby for some and a profitable business for others.

Warrender still prefers a title along the lines of "antique reseller," but trivialities aside, Chattanooga has an ever-present community of pickers, resellers and antique dealers with all sorts of strategies for finding their... finds.

Shopping and reselling antiques is en vogue, and there's no indication that it'll be out of fashion anytime soon. According to GlobalData, the resale market ballooned to $188.6 billion in 2023, continuing a steady upward trend since the $117.8 billion mark from 2018. By 2028, the re-commerce market is expected to reach $275.8 billion.

Perhaps the epicenter of Chattanooga's antique community is the East Ridge Antique District, where Crazy Daisy Antiques, Yesteryear Antiques & Memories, Sugarplums Antiques and others nestle together beside the highway.

East Town Antiques sits in the middle of the "district," and a stroll inside may lead to Deni Richardson, who works at the store and also sells some of her own vintage finds there.

A good deal of Richardson's finds come by way of estate sales, and she refers to herself as a "day-three picker," meaning she's happy to swoop in on a sale's final day to acquire purses, shoes, pocket knives and the like — the "smalls," in picking lingo. Estate sales typically go live on the weekends, beginning early in the morning on Friday and wrapping up on Sunday.

She also sells antiques online through Etsy, where much of the reselling happens these days. Antique selling has transitioned online progressively since the founding of eBay, but there's still a desire to purchase the items in-person, and it makes sense. "People want to touch it," Richardson says. "They want to hold it."

If Richardson is a day-three picker dealing in smalls, what does a day-one picker look like? This is where it gets competitive. One Chattanooga woman whose husband is a day-one antique picker says that he does it for the thrill, waking up as early as 5 a.m. to prepare to leave for an estate sale.

The more experienced and dedicated pickers get up this early to check an estate sale's listings, which are often posted online before the sale begins. From there, it's a race to the site, as most estate sales operate on a first-come, first-served basis. "There are definitely days when he doesn't get anything, and he's like, well that was a waste of my time, gas and money," the woman says. "But that's the thrill of it; every now and then you come across something." Some of the more desirable antique items include furniture, artwork or currency.

If you're Warrender, the aforementioned owner of Mostly French, which is an antique shop in Chattanooga's Southside neighborhood, you avoid the competition altogether and hop on a flight to France. She does this yearly, arriving either in Nice or Paris and working her way through the country via rental car, on the hunt for flea markets and upscale antique dealers.

She's accompanied by her husband on the annual buying trip, and they've tried to recruit other family members to no avail. "I guess they're all afraid we'll put them to work," she says.

If they arrive in Nice, they drive north. If they arrive in Paris, they go south. "I don't set a budget; I just look for things that I'll fall in love with," she says. The fruits of their labor are on display in the antique shop that lives up to its name. It's outfitted with antique French furniture, glassware and decor, balanced out with some necessary Parisian kitsch (don't bother trying to count the number of items either displaying or shaped like the Eiffel Tower).

Regardless of the origin of these finds, whether it be from a flea market in Paris or an estate sale in Cleveland, they all end up in Chattanooga, joining a niche but thriving — and ever-growing — community.

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