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A New Breed of Antiques Dealers Specializes in Retro-Chic

A New Breed of Antiques Dealers Specializes in Retro-Chic
Image credit: Photography by Natalie Brasington
Retro revival: Three Potato Four's Stu Eli and Janet Morales.

By the time you read this, the vintage faux-tiger trophy head will be hanging on the wall of a Three Potato Four customer's home, purchased through the Philadelphia-based company's online shop or its monthly in-store event. Or not. So goes the antiques game.

With its retro-hip stylings, Three Potato Four, launched in 2007 as an online-only shop, quickly became the favorite online destination of a new, younger breed of antiques hunters. That customer devotion translated to long lines when owners Stu Eli and Janet Morales started hosting monthly sales at the suitably old former textile mill they've called the company's home since 2010. The couple started the sales as weekly events, but found that the workload didn't match the return.

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"The business is just us," Eli says. "Between buying and packing and shipping and organizing the store and helping customers and promoting and advertising--we cannot do this every week."

A friend suggested they go monthly to "generate more hype" and turn the sales into destination events. Three Potato Four held its first "Barn Sale" in January 2011. "We had more sales in that one weekend than we did being open every weekend," Eli says.

Changes in the antiques industry, Eli and Morales say, have made their business more challenging. When they started out, there were two or three vintage dealers on online marketplace Etsy. Now there are tens of thousands--along with a new category of weekend-warrior antiques dealers. To protect their business (and their flexible work style--the couple has two kids under the age of 6), Eli and Morales are developing five or six potential revenue streams. Though Three Potato will always be anchored by their sales of vintage goodies to consumers, they're also selling to retailers and other dealers, and have started a wholesale business. Morales, a graphic designer, says she and Eli are creating products under the 3-P4 label "based on our vintage findings and things we love." Their company sold a line of products to Urban Outfitters last year and is currently negotiating a deal with another national retailer.

No matter the revenue stream, the couple likes to put their personal spin on things--from their fondness for typography to happy (and naturally lit) family photos on the "About" page of their website. Says Morales, "We've always wanted to be a mom-and-pop shop." 

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Jenna Schnuer writes (mostly) about business and travel and is a contributing editor for Entrepreneur.

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This article was originally published in the September 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Mom-and-Pop Shop, Redefined.

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