Marriage, divorce, death, birth, college, downsizing, upsizing — chances are the serious customer who walks through the door of a furniture consignment store is in the midst of a life transition, said David Massey, owner of Consignments Unlimited in Grass Valley. Every piece of furniture brings with it a unique story, and the ever-changing inventory speaks to the nature of life itself — that nothing ever stays the same.
Massey’s father, Jim, who first opened the store in 1979, could surely have understood this metaphor. A retired Bay Area psychologist, he and his wife Yvonne moved to Grass Valley and loved “antiquing” in the Gold Country. They opened the low-risk business in a nondescript part of Brunswick Basin as a kind of hobby, said Massey, so they’d “have something to do.”
Massey worked with his parents for five or six years before taking over in 1987. He’d always shared that certain kind of thrill with them when it came to finding hidden gems, he said.
“I loved working with my parents,” he said. “My dad had a flat-bed truck. He’d go out and look at stuff, make a bid, then pick it up; I’d watch the store.”
They must have been doing something right, said Massey, as word of mouth quickly became their best advertising.
“I think part of it had to do with my dad, the psychologist,” said Massey. “It can be hard for a customer to part with something that has sentimental value. It’s often worth more to them than the actual price. My dad understood that many customers became friends that way.”
When it comes to items sold on consignment, the store has a 90-day policy, so the inventory never gets stale. But some items have sold within minutes of arriving at the 1,500-square-foot store, said Massey — sometimes he hasn’t even finished the paperwork. Regulars are known to pop in once or twice a week to see what’s changed.
But then there are pieces that appear to get no interest at all.
Clint Walker, a retired American actor best known for his cowboy role as “Cheyenne Bodie” in the western television series, “Cheyenne,” had a hide-a-bed couch for sale on consignment at the store, said Massey. But for weeks, no one gave it a second look.
“Then one day I put a sign on it that said, ‘Clint Walker slept here,’” he said with a laugh. “I sold it the next day.”
Today, the store carries mostly household furnishings, but over the years Massey has bought and sold many items that could be considered out of the ordinary.
“I once bought an embalming machine because it was so unique and no one else had one,” he said. “It was a big, stainless steel tub with hoses. I put punch in it on Halloween. Then I sold it to Hooper & Weaver.”
Massey also once bought a sitar — a large, long-necked Indian lute — from Roger Hodgson, a former member of the English rock band Supertramp.
“Later I found out it was worth much more than I sold it for,” he said. “When it comes to consignments, the Internet has changed everything. There’s more competition, but it’s easier to find out what things are worth. I recently sold a sousaphone — the customer was going to use it as a light fixture.”
The store’s shift to featuring mostly furniture came four years ago with the arrival of store manager Pamela Bergthold, who had spent 16 years working for Broad Street Furnishings, 10 as manager. Her knowledge has been invaluable, Massey said.
“Little by little we’ve added more gently used furniture, art work, collectibles, home décor and antiques,” said Bergthold. “We’ve always got something interesting. Right now it’s Asian carved wood with marble.”
Popular items include couches, coffee tables, dining room sets, wall mirrors, coat racks, shoji screens, book cases and more. Then there are the coveted antique pie safes, steamer trunks and enameled metal tables. Massey says he can also special order new, affordable items, such as futons and other furniture “not unlike Ikea.”
But Bergthold said she enjoys her job most when a customer falls in love with something unusual.
“I just sold a 6-foot-tall goddess lamp,” she said.
“A man came in and became fascinated with it. He came back in, then told his kids he wanted that lamp. They told him he was wasting his money. Then he came back again and said, ‘I want her. I’m going to have her.’”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.