For 20 years, Alison Matney sat hunched in front of a desktop computer, confined to a cubicle. Matney has a colorful persona—tattoos crawl up both arms and hair is shaved on both sides of her head—and found corporate America draining. It meant financial stability but mental debility.

With her 40th birthday approaching in March 2020, she decided to call it quits, intent on following her passion for design.

Meanwhile, Hannah Spector had just re-entered the restaurant industry after a decade of working with Planned Parenthood. Drained and tired of taking her job home with her each day, she quit and took up bartending while figuring out next steps.

Then, the pandemic happened.

Spector lost her restaurant job. Matney was panicking, too, as she’d just quit her job weeks prior, and opportunities were proving scarce.

“During the summer, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what have I done? I don’t have a paycheck. I’m not on unemployment. I don’t have any savings anymore,’” Matney says. “But something inside me was just like, it’s gonna work out.”

Today, Matney is the proud owner of Bull City Vintage, a vintage reseller based in Durham that now has more than 5,000 followers on Instagram. April 24, Matney opened her first showroom at 420 W. Lakewood Avenue, featuring her collection of mid-century furniture, polished decor, and knickknacks. The showroom, for now, does not have regular hours like a retail space, but Matney plans to hold monthly pop-up events featuring other Triangle sellers; the showroom will also be open by appointment.

The Bull City Vintage showroom opening was held at the space last Saturday, extending into Sunday due to rain. Around 200 people showed up, sifting through Matney’s treasures indoors and stopping by other resellers’ pop-up stands outside. One of these resellers was Hannah Spector.

Spector created Spector Vintage + Design shortly after the pandemic hit, as well, with more than 2,000 followers on Instagram today. She sells vintage decor and furniture of all kinds, antique ceramics, and one-of-a-kind textile artwork.

“When the pandemic hit, it was a great kick in the ass. Because I had to figure out a way to make money,” Spector says. “I definitely physically take my work home with me now, but it’s a different kind of taking work home with you. I really love what I’m doing.”

For many people, the pandemic—despite the anxiety, loss, and fear—forced them to hit a reset button and follow passions they’d previously set aside. For some, like Matney and Spector, it opened them up to vintage reselling, invigorating their love for new beginnings, home decor, and sustainability.

Growing up in New York City, Hannah Spector was a self-declared punk. In middle school, hooked by the messaging of punk music, she began to attend shows, favoring the “activist nights” at former New York City venue Wetlands Preserve. This introduced an interest in sustainability and social reform.

“There’s such an abundance of items out there,” Spector says. “Instead of buying new things which may not be made ethically, and certainly require processes that pollute the environment, you’re minimizing your impact and your carbon footprint.”

When faced with unemployment during the pandemic years later, Spector created her vintage reselling account. Spector Vintage + Design, which reached its one-year anniversary in March, has allowed her to work when she wants and feel fulfilled knowing her job aligns with her beliefs. Matney’s Instagram shop, meanwhile, opened a bit later than Spector’s. In October of 2020, she purchased a mid-century modern dresser from an estate sale.

It had been a long summer. A single mom, she spent most of her time at home with her son, where, room by room, she’d been renovating her house. Hunting for new additions to her home on a budget, she frequented estate sales. On this day, the dresser spoke to her.

“I didn’t want to turn around and resell it for $800 because people shouldn’t be paying that much money for mid-century modern stuff,” Matney says. “I want people just like me to be able to afford really cool pieces.”

On Etsy and eBay, genuine mid-century modern pieces, especially dressers, typically range from $500 to thousands of dollars. Replicas sold by Overstock and Wayfair are cheaper, within the range of $200 and $500, but they lack the authenticity and durability of genuine pieces.

Matney believes vintage items are for everyone. She says too many resellers turn the affordable to the unattainable and, in a city already battling gentrification, she wants to assure the community that nice, quality furniture is not a luxury reserved only for the moneyed.

She cleaned the dresser, touched it up, and sold it for $175.

This epiphany shot her into a newfound passion for vintage reselling. She continued reselling, and created an Instagram account called @Bull_City_Vintage_NC. The name came to her, a Durham native, effortlessly.

“I’ve seen the city change over the last 40 years,” Matney says. “It’s my home, and I wanted to  keep that as part of the shop.”

To curate her shop, Hannah Spector scavenges auction websites, eBay, estate sales, Goodwill, and other thrift stores. She takes note of trends and items on her buyers’ wish lists, still using her individual taste to guide her search, favoring textile art, mid-century furniture, and dead stock glass. Matney begins each day in her basement, which is filled with vintage goodies from across North Carolina. Her van, Bessie, has taken her as far as Franklin, N.C., to pick up a 1980s Harley-Davidson clock. Then, Spector and Matney, respectively, begin cleaning.

“The things that I’ve cleaned off—everything from cigarette ash to cat pee,” Spector says. “But that process is so rewarding, because you can take something that isn’t really even recognizable and return it to its former glory.”

Before pricing, the sellers must consider the labor, travel time, and refurbishing expenses, while remaining true to their mission: making vintage items affordable to their customers.

“My main thing is making sure that I’m not price gouging or overpricing,” Matney says. “I sell for people like me [who are] sick of people who have wealth having all the cool shit. That’s it.”

When she finds an item she doesn’t intend to sell, Matney buys it anyway. Functioning appliances, furniture, and clothes are readily available at estate sales and thrift stores across the state. She collects these and donates them to Section 8 housing, such as McDougald Terrace.

“So many sellers use their platforms to raise up things that are happening in the community, social justice issues,” Spector says. “A lot of people donate part of the percentage of their sales, or they have special days when they do a sale where money is being raised for a certain cause. It’s a community of a lot of activists. And that feels really powerful.”

Matney hopes to hold her second shop the weekend of May 22 and hopes to continue with similar pop-ups, each month, diversifying her selections with additional sellers.

“If I don’t have something, I want my clients to find that,” she says. “So if there’s another shop that has it, I’m so excited. If we can all help each other that way, it’s even better.”

Matney says she’s grateful for the vintage community and credits her success to those who have helped her along the way. In the past six months, she’s sold more than 300 items—from a paperweight to a wardrobe. She works harder than she ever has, driving hundreds of miles to search out pieces, lifting heavy furniture, cleaning, researching, and coordinating purchases. And at the end of the day, she’s glad she left her previous job for the unknown.

“I’m not gonna be a wealthy person, but that’s fine. I just want to be happy,” Matney says. “I don’t shower every day, and I don’t sleep very much, but I’m still loving it.”

10 Online Thrift Stores You’ll Want to Follow

If you don’t have time to sift through the shelves of Trosa Thrift or CommunityWorx, these curators will make sure your house is still fun and eco-friendly.

Will & Bequeath (@willandbequeath) | Durham/Raleigh | For those looking for something outside the MCM old, this shop sells vintage tchotchkes from around the world.

Marty’s Thrift! (@martys.thrift) | Raleigh | Marty Rogers sells a curated collection of the favorite pieces from your grandmother’s house, plus some tops in a variety of fun prints.

Dress Kit Vintage (@dress_kit_vintage) | Durham | A must-follow for folks looking for Memphis Group-inspired earrings, and a fun place to find MCM goods.

Crystal Clear Finds Co (@crystalclearfindsco) | Durham | Come for Crystal’s curation of gorgeous wood carvings, stay for her posts about her thrift adventures and family.

Perno’s Eclectic Relics (@pernos_eclectic_relics) | Durham | Live out your cottagecore fantasies with her cute kitchen pieces, or find colorful decor to add some delight to your digs.

Savvy Hound Vintage (@savvyhoundvintage) | Garner/Raleigh | The sequins. The patterns! The home pieces to make you feel like the biggest diva on the street.

Casa Vintage (@vintage.casita) | Raleigh | If you’re looking for an even mix of handcrafted and vintage goods, Casa Vintage has a holder for all your trinkets.

Country Feedback (@countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl) | Tarboro | While they may be slightly outside the Triangle, this vintage seller’s eclectic record selection is deserving of some rule-breaking.

pewter&sage vintage and thrift (@pewter_and_sage) | Durham | If you love collage walls but don’t have the patience to scour the art section of a thrift store, let pewter&sage create one for you.

Nouveau Central (@shopnouveaucentral) | Durham | An elephant painting, a spare white vase, a giant wooden fork—a wide-array of items showcased tastefully next to a snake plant. Happy shopping!

–Sara Pequeño

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