Teacher turns passion for collecting into local estate sale business

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A thrifty customer looks through items at a Blue Moon estate sale. Local resident Andrea Barnes recently opened a Wilmington franchise of the Triangle-based company. Courtesy photos.
A thrifty customer looks through items at a Blue Moon estate sale. Local resident Andrea Barnes recently opened a Wilmington franchise of the Triangle-based company. Courtesy photos.

Andrea Barnes may be new to the estate sale business but, in many ways, it’s a pursuit for which she has been preparing her entire life.

Armed with a family-inspired penchant for picking and limitless capacity for collecting – and professional experience from two seemingly unrelated careers – Barnes launched a local franchise of the Triangle-based Blue Moon Estate Sales in 2015. In little more than a year, Barnes has staged nearly 25 sales in Wilmington and across the southeast.

“I kind of just fell into this,” Barnes said.

While living in Cary, Barnes said she and a group of friends became interested in “shabby chic-ing,” a hobby that naturally found them following the thrill of the hunt. On one such search for bargains, Barnes came across a Blue Moon sale and became an instant fan.

“I really enjoyed their sales, so I kept going,” she said.

When she found out about franchise opportunities, she took the plunge and set up shop in the Port City.

Sounds like a direct path, but the straight line to estate sales is really a melding of varied aspects of the Ohio native’s upbringing and background.

Looking back, Barnes acknowledges she came by her own longtime love of collecting cookie jars honestly. Her grandfather kept his personal passion – antique canes – displayed on racks along the walls of his home, she recalled. And Barnes said her mother preferred amassing “primitive things,” particularly kitchenware.

Running estate sales might seem an altogether different direction for Barnes, a former teacher who has a background in hotel management. But she believes her prior professional life was perfect training for her latest endeavor.

“This touches on all the other things I’ve done,” she said.

Barnes own interest in collecting and shabby chic design led her to move from the classroom to the business of estate sales. Photo by Jebb Graff.
Barnes’ own interest in collecting and shabby chic design led her to move from the classroom to the business of estate sales. Photo by Jebb Graff.

The hospitality industry, for example, required business savvy and customer service skills, Barnes said. But maybe less obvious is what the classroom taught her: compassion, social interaction and gentle patience.

Those come in handy when assisting someone with the often painful task of sorting through the contents of a home. Many times, Barnes is called in because a family member has passed away or an elderly person is downsizing to move into an assisted care facility.

Estate sale companies, Barnes said, encounter the four “D’s”: death, downsizing, divorce and debt. They’re all experiences that are typically emotionally charged and, she added, can lead to some resistance among those who called for her assistance.

“That is usually the initial approach with the family but as the process moves along, they begin to become more relaxed,” she said. “They’re often very worried at first to see someone going through their parents’ items.”

There again, Barnes can pull from her own life. When the situation requires it, she shares with clients her experience helping her aging mother sort through a lifetime of items ahead of a move back home to Ohio to be closer to family.

“You have to take things in small steps. Every person handles it differently; you can’t move too fast,” she said.

From coastal cottage to historic bungalow, Barnes said she enjoys finding the unique charm of each of the homes in which she has held sales.
From coastal cottage to historic bungalow, Barnes said she enjoys finding the unique charm of each of the homes in which she has held sales.

Empathetic and engaged, Barnes takes pleasure in being able to ease at least some burden during trying times. The process allows clients to choose what they’ll keep and let Barnes sell the rest, at fair market value, to earn funds that she said are sometimes needed for funeral or moving expenses.

But she admits she also finds joy in the unknown, discovering unique pieces that hold interesting stories or deep personal meaning. On more than one occasion, Barnes has come across something believed to be lost, like an old locket, or something her clients never knew existed.

“Every house is different, which is what I like,” she said, noting a recent sale at an 18th century home filled with antiques and another in rural Brunswick County that housed a treasure trove of tools and equipment. “I love the history behind pieces, too. In my own home, I have my father’s trunk that he took with him when he went off to service.”

And like every good teacher greets students at the start of each day, Barnes looks forward to opening the doors to eager customers and hesitant newcomers alike.

“Estate sales are excellent for the community – for antique dealers, for amateur collectors, for people who just want normal things like a microwave…I have some regulars who come to every sale and when they didn’t come to a few, I was worried about them. You look forward to seeing the same people at each sale,” she said. “And I always like when new people who don’t know about estate sales come and then they become followers.”

For Barnes’ upcoming Blue Moon Estate Sales of The Coastal NC events and to see photos of items, click here.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.