THE BUSINESS OF CONSIGNING:

20 Years Turn Over For Turnover Shop Owner

by Alice Cherbonnier
Twenty years ago, Alice Ann Finnerty was a registered nurse preparing to resume her nursing career after being at home with her six children. She heard The Turnover Shop was for sale, had lunch with owner Dorothy Mollett, “and by the end of the lunch, I owned the shop!” says Ms. Finnerty with an easy laugh, delighted at the memory of her audacity.
     She bought a little history along with a business. Since 1943, Baltimoreans have been able to recycle their belongings through the shop at 3855 Roland Ave. Founded by two women during wartime, it provides a place where no-longer-needed items can be placed for sale. “This is the oldest strictly consignment shop in Maryland,” says Ms. Finnerty.
     She’s expanded the business considerably over the years. In 1985 she bought the building, enclosed its porch, and added display space on the lower level. She’s also opened a second shop, at 3547 Chestnut Avenue, also in Hampden.
     “It’s still fun after all these years,” she says. “I love the people, and the surprises of the business. When we’re opening boxes, it’s like Christmas every day.”
     That’s not to say there are no frustrations. One of the hardest parts of the business, she says, is rotating stock to keep the inventory fresh for repeat customers.
     Everyone gets the same deal at The Turnover Shop: the consignor (the one who owns the item being sold) gets two-thirds of the sale price of an item, and the shop gets the other third. Prices are set by Ms. Finnerty and her daughter--also named Alice Ann Finnerty--who does much of the day-to-day management. Longtime employees Mary Agnes Gahan and Mary Lee Wist, who have been with the shop for 16 years, are also knowledgeable about pricing. “It does seem like everybody has a double name,” Ms. Finnerty acknowledges.
     Usually the initial price of a consigned item, unless it’s an antique, is set at about half the retail price. If it doesn’t move in 30 days at that price, a red slash is put through its price sticker, and it sells for half price. Another 30 days on the floor, and it gets another slash, and goes for 75% off. At the consignor’s option, anything still around after three months either goes back to the consignor or is donated to a charity, with the consignor getting the charitable tax deduction.
     The shop allows customers to “hold” an item for 24 hours. Some items are so desirable the shop takes back-up “second holds” and “third holds.”
      The two shops carry furniture, art, decorative objects, and unusual odds and ends, but no longer any clothing, because space is at a premium.
     One Saturday a visitor saw items ranging from a 10” Imari blue and peach plate for $8 to a lustrous pine circa 1870 washstand complete with china fittings for $1,200--the most expensive piece of furniture in the shop that day.
     On a sofa was “Marybel”--“the doll that gets well”--in its original box with original clothes and accessories; a collector could snap it up for $275.
     Ms. Finnerty has noticed that the public’s buying habits have changed over the past 20 years. “They’re looking for authentic antiques, and quality furniture is getting harder to come by. People are more interested, more informed. It’s made the business more challenging.”
     The shop maintains a customer “wish list” and makes calls when wanted items come in. “Some young couples, when they’re moving into a house, give us the whole inventory of what they want,” says Ms. Finnerty.
     Residents of retirement communities frequently consign their excess belongings here. “They do better with us than with an auction,” she says. “We’ve created a sense of trust. They have a complete accounting.”
     The accounting has become less of a chore since son Tommy Finnerty set up an integrated computerized system five years ago that links the two shops. Prior to that, Ms. Finnerty recalls, “It used to be all day Sunday was spent entering by hand.”
     Son Tommy and his wife Wesley, who both once worked at The Turnover Shop, now operate a similar shop of their own, the Antique Exchange on Wyndhurst Avenue. Daughter Eileen also worked in the shop; now she’s a social worker in Denver.
     Other family members who have been involved in the shop include Ms. Finnerty’s sister, Mary Elizabeth Zorzi, who works on Saturdays and helps with the books; and their mother, who worked at the shop from 1978 until she died two years later.
     Daughter Sally is a doctor in Boston, son Joseph is a lawyer in New York, and daughter Kathleen has left a career in business to raise her children at home.
     How did Alice Ann, Jr. get her duplicate name? Alice Ann, Sr. laughs as she recalls, “I’m the one who named her. She was the third child. The first two were named for grandparents, and I got to name the third one, and I just loved the name Alice Ann...”
     Alice Ann, Jr., she says, “has allowed me the time and the privilege to do community work.” Alice Ann, Sr. chairs the board of the Hampden Family Center and serves as president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association.
     Ms. Finnerty has lived for 30 years on St. Paul Street in Guilford. Not surprisingly, her house is furnished with antiques. But she’s not adding any more. “You just have to stop somewhere!” she jokes.
     Then she’s off to climb into the shop’s truck to have a look at a new shipment. And from the eager glint in her eye, you’d have thought it was Christmas in August.


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This story was published on Sep. 2, 1998.