Estate of Confusion — which might be described as a garage sale wrapped in a salvage yard inside an art exhibit — will close its doors May 1.
That's the date Greg Ross, who's operated the eclectic resale business since 1999 in the heart of Chattanooga's trendy Southside neighborhood, will sell his property at 301 E. Main St. to an unnamed developer for an undisclosed sum so the buildings can be reused by an unidentified restaurant.
"It's just time, time for something else," Ross said. "The highest and best use of that property is something else than I'm doing there."
Ross hopes to sell everything in his store before May 1, and he says he won't let those who make reasonable offers walk out the door empty-handed.
Hubcaps, stained-glass church windows and huge camera lenses from Olan Mills, a national family portrait chain, now known as Lifetouch, are some of the countless salvaged items that Ross has offered for sale at his business.
The inventory doesn't have much organization.
"You just haul it in and throw it on the floor and they get to root through it," Ross said.
And hardly anything has a price tag.
"No, no, no —that's too much trouble," Ross said.
So customers have to ask Ross or Joe Bailey, a 72-year-old who Ross said "volunteers" in the store, how much items cost.
Artists love it
Colleen Laliberte stopped by Estate of Confusion Tuesday afternoon to find a stage prop for the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera.
"I'm on a mission to find a chair, a very specific chair, for 'Madame Butterfly,'" she said.
Artists who scour Estate of Confusion include Kirsten Stingle, an Atlanta woman whose pieces use "found objects," Chattanooga sculptor John Petrey, and Chattanooga's Jan Cooper, who makes mixed media, collages and jewelry.
"Makes me sad," Cooper said of the business closing. "I remember first meeting him at an estate sale, because we're both junk people, we like weird stuff. I've purchased glass blocks from him before. I've purchased the metal names from cars, that kind of stuff."
"He was doing junk, before junk was cool," said Cooper, who met Ross about 30 years ago.
While unconventional, Estate of Confusion's business model has provided Ross with what he describes as a comfortable living.
For example, a photographer offered him $3,000 for two 1880s-era horsehair sleeping chairs that Ross purchased years ago for less than $100. The thousands of Olan Mills' proprietary cameras that Ross bought for $2 each, had a video component that cost $1,200 new that he sold on eBay for $75 to $150, each.
"I made a killing," said Ross.
Scrap metal yards are Ross' favorite place to "shop." That's where he first came across Olan Mills cameras.
Ross got into the salvage trade in 1996 — pretty much by accident.
He had a landscaping business then, headquartered in a cinder-block garage on North Market Street where the Publix supermarket is now.
"I've always picked up junk," said Ross, who collected so much (on his own and for landscaping clients) that he ran out of room to park his equipment inside the garage. Also, he needed money to make an employee's worker's compensation payment. That's when Ross decided to have a garage sale — which did very well.
"It was a stupid amount of money," Ross said, remembering that the parking lot filled up with luxury cars.
Two weeks later, he had another money-making garage sale — and decided to ditch landscaping, his career for two decades.
"It occurred to me that I was in the wrong business," said Ross. "I renewed no [landscaping] contracts, I fired all my employees and I sold all my equipment, so I wouldn't get back into it."
One pitfall of Ross' habit of being a lifelong "picker" is that it has annoyed girlfriends, he said, and it helped drive off at least one fiancée.
Keeping it weird
People contact Ross and have him pick up salvage items, including when buildings are being demolished or remodeled. For example, the stained-glass windows that Ross spent months carefully removing from a church on Williams Street that was converted into a private residence.
"I've always had a penchant for architectural salvage," he said.
While loyal customers are sad to see the business go, Ross looks forward to taking some time off.
"I haven't had a vacation in forever," he said. "There are some people that come in every week just to see what's up, what's new. It has been a bit of a social club. The people I've met and done business with — I'll miss that part of it."
Ross did visit Chuck Cagle, who recently made about $2 million on the sale of the three-story building that held Chuck's II, a pioneering Main Street gay bar on the Southside that was one of only a handful of businesses there when Cagle opened it in 1994. The bar closed in October, due to the building's sale.
"You understand this is the end of an era," Ross told Cagle. "We're the last two people keeping it weird on Main Street."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.