Ryan Bush, 35, has stopped counting the number of times people have called her an "old soul." When you're part of the millennial generation, being called an "old soul" may or may not sound like a compliment.
But Bush unquestionably likes "old stuff." She owns and operates Dirty Jane's Antiques on Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank, a vast warehouse space where about 100 vendors rent space to sell antiques and collectibles.
She's been working in the antiques business since just after college (she was an anthropology major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), but her association with collectibles goes back to her childhood.
"As a kid, I was always fascinated with things. I just like stuff in general," Bush says. "My parents flipped houses when I was growing up. I was always with them rummaging through old things.
"My dad also collected eye glasses and (straight) razors. He would take me to ask for a better price. I was young and cute at the time, and they couldn't say no."
After college, Bush says she was "floundering and didn't know what I wanted to do." She tried selling real estate. She collected and sold antique jewelry on Etsy. While trying to flip a 1930s bungalow locally, she began to immerse herself in historical objects and architectural artifacts.
One day she saw an add in the newspaper for Knitting Mill Antiques on Manufacturers Road.
"I went and applied for the job and just fell in love with it," Bush says. She took an entry-level job, and within a few years was managing the whole show.
When the Knitting Mill store closed in 2015, she began to think about a way to open her own antiques mall. She had noticed the empty storefront in Red Bank and thought it would make a good spot. It was centrally located and not in an overheated real estate market.
Complicating matters, the year the Knitting Mill was closing, Bush was diagnosed with breast cancer. After about a year her treatments concluded. She opened Dirty Jane's in 2017 and began to build it to full occupancy.
Today, about 100 vendors pay a monthly booth rent and a consignment fee for items sold in the store. As owner/operator Bush's job is to make sure the booths are orderly, well-presented and filled with merchandise that will ultimately sell.
About Ryan Bush
* Age: 35
* Job: Owner/Operator Dirty Jane’s Antiques
* Store location: 1910 Dayton Boulevard, Red Bank
* Hometown: Chattanooga
* Education: University of Tennesee (Knoxville and Chattanooga)
* Family: Engaged
Some of the space in the 24,000-square-foot store is reserved for carefully curated "end caps" that gather goods into well-thought-out themes. Examples are a mid-century living room, a country store or a Christmas display.
Bush says the business flourished all through the pandemic as people stayed home and, in many cases, focused on redecorating their living spaces.
"When COVID closed us down, we went full steam on Instagram and Facebook," she says. "I don't know how it happened, but our sales have almost doubled over the past year."
Red Bank has turned out to be a good location, she says. The business and real estate climate is improving, reflecting a spill-over effect from the nearby North Shore.