A well-worn yellow wooden box sits outside a Ralston thrift store and Shannon Hanna’s eyes light up.
“Oooh,” she chortles. “That looks like a good one!”
The Missouri Valley resident zips into the store and, a few short minutes later, the box is wedged into the back seat of her car. But she’s only got a short time left on her lunch hour, so she jumps back in and heads out to find more “treasure.”
Hanna, the owner of “HomeGrown Junk” has turned an eye for second-hand goods into a thriving business. In fact, it’s doing so well that she’s among 30 “junkies” who will be participating in the first-ever “Junkstock” festival, slated for June 22 through 24 in Omaha. Vendors from five states will be converging on an old dairy farm where they will display their wares.
Hanna, a graphic designer, has always had a love for antiques and collectibles. She started collecting for herself, along with her self-proclaimed “junk hunk” husband, Brian. Among her favorites are huge cabinets and primitive tables.
But as any collector knows, sometimes a collection takes on a life of its own.
For Brian, it was hay hooks and minnow buckets.
“When you realize you have 25 minnow buckets, you start thinking you should probably sell the extras,” Shannon said.
The Hannas are not alone.
“Junking” is a thriving business and vendors – and shoppers – are eagerly seeking and buying second-hand goods. Long a staple of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living, antiques of all types grace homes across the country and are often incorporated into an eclectic mix of an owner’s decorating scheme. Couple that with the popularity of new TV shows, like “American Pickers” and “Storage Wars,” along with massive events, like Nebraska’s own “Junk Jaunt,” which spans 300 miles of continuous yard sales, and the market for everything from primitive furniture and “shabby-chic” to retro-industrial items are flourishing.
“Now it’s become ‘cool’ to decorate with rusty and chipped items,” Shannon said. “Famous people are decorating their homes with that style.”
HomeGrown Junk got its start in April of 2011 with a few simple items: leather wrist cuffs, made from cast-off belts, and “spring candles,” made from mattress springs and colored glass insulators.
Shannon first coveted the look of the leather cuffs while on a trip to Texas. But rather than spending her money, her mother, Janelle Kilbane (also of Missouri Valley) told her to make her own. And so she did.
Taking vintage cowboy belts, embellished with tooled flowers and fancy lacing, Shannon cut cuffs to size, added snaps and showed them off to her friends. The cuffs were an instant hit. It wasn’t long before she was selling them out of the back of her car at country music concerts, and it wasn’t much longer before even up-and-coming Nashville music stars were sporting her goods.
Hanna’s spring candles, a huge seller, are constructed out of rusty bed springs. Vintage colored telephone insulators cradle a tealight candle.
Shannon quickly tapped the power of social media to create a following. Today, nearly 1,700 fans follow her Facebook page, which she updates daily with newly found “treasures.” Some of her finds won’t even make it as far as Junkstock – buyers often purchase them from her after spying them on Facebook.
“Junking” is more than just a business, it’s almost an obsession. When she’s not at work in Omaha, or helping to tend the acreage, almost every spare minute is spent scouring the area for treasures. That means hitting a regular route of thrift stores, stopping at weekend garage sales, waiting patiently at auctions, or even digging through old barns and outbuildings (only with an owner’s permission, of course!).
Oftentimes, these “treasures” have led a rough life. Before they are sold, the Hannas work together to clean up dusty, rusty, items, leaving the primitive look while eliminating the grime of years.
To get a feel for how her business might be doing, the Hannas hosted their first “Dirt Roads Dust and Rust Days” sale in May. With more than 800 invites sent via Facebook, the Hannas deemed it successful, with hundreds of shoppers lining up along their county road to pick up items from Hanna and two other vendors.
Junkstock will provide another indicator of success. The event is expected to attract several thousand shoppers with its mix of vintage vendors selling everything from furniture to fashion. The family-friendly event will also offer children’s activities and music and, while there is an admission fee, a portion of the ticket price will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The interest in HomeGrown Junk and businesses like it may represent not only a decorating trend, but the buyers’ interest in unique or increasingly rare items.
For the Hannas, it’s an appreciation for handmade goods with a history, rather than mass-produced “cookie cutter” decorations or furniture.
“It has to do with bringing back people’s memories of yesterday,” Shannon said. “So many things made today don’t look – or last – like these pieces. You can’t relive your childhood when you have a house full of molded plastic stuff.”
Junkstock promises to be hard work, and the Hannas have spent hours cleaning, pricing and packing up their merchandise. But when the last customer has headed home, and HomeGrown Junk closes up shop at the event on June 24, the work will be far from over. There are more treasures to be found.
“When I’m not at work, I’m junkin’,” said Shannon. ‘It’s constant. I eat, breathe and sleep for junkin’.”