By Sabrina Nucciarone
A new business has entered the downtown Sheboygan marketplace at 804 8th Street that may have heads turning. In what was a storefront that sat vacant and unnoticed at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue for years—catty-corner to the new city green (where Younkers used to be) and across the street from Mead Public Library—The Rickety Wagon has opened. Providing consignment services for furniture and home décor in better condition, business owner Lisa Stewart couldn’t be more pleased.
For Stewart, 39, with a theatre degree and who has worked a number of jobs, including working in a small furniture store and teaching in China, owning her own business was several years in the making. The dream of the consignment store came to light when her parents had nice couches they no longer wanted. The couches had a great deal of life and some value to them but didn’t know what to do. For the sake of logistics and safety, they did not want to go the online route. Donating them was an alternative but wanting to sell them and finding a buyer was a challenge.
At that time, Stewart worked in call center customer service and created a business plan. Unprepared to make the financial commitment, two years went by and in February this year, she made the decision. In a better financial position, the thought came to her, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will’,” she said.
In preparation, Stewart looked at what other furniture consignment stores there are in the area but only found them as close as Appleton and Green Bay. She looked where they were and what they sold and started looking at available retail spaces in Sheboygan County. The space downtown Sheboygan came to her attention and was available. “I love the windows and how big it is. If I could pick a place, this would be it,” she said. Based on comments made to her by patrons, Sheboygan has needed a furniture consignment business and are happy to see it downtown.
Stewart’s mother, Sandy Stewart, agreed. “People are down-sizing and they have no place to bring furniture in good condition. Adult children have filled their houses and don’t need it,” she said. Trained in theatre lighting, the natural southern light coming in from floor to ceiling windows is perfect for highlighting the bright natural colors and unique textures of the furniture and décor. The space allows for movement of items large and small; the constant is moving items around to best showcase the inventory.
With a diverse group of furnishings that will constantly change as items come in and are sold, Stewart is building her inventory. For Stewart it is about function and her preference is for items that are older that have character. Reaching out via the Internet, word of mouth, and for others, like Wendy Eckwielen, who found it by driving downtown, the collection includes antiques, newer items and an eclectic combination of redesigned or repurposed items. For instance, Eckwielen creates upcycled furniture items in her business, Meadow View Findery, but didn’t have a place to showcase items in her inventory—until now.
The open concept of the store gives way to creating vignettes, grouping together furniture and décor of similar colors and or a united theme. In addition to the antique and newer pieces she accepts, and like the upcycle work of Eckwielen, Stewart is open to local people who make things appropriate to her business and need a place to sell them. “All the money from here stays in the community,” she said. This perspective, she said, “is environmentally friendly.”
Checking everything before it is accepted, Stewart said she may get more selective as time goes on, by seeing what sells and what doesn’t. For the time being she is focusing on form and function and gets a sense from patrons about pricing. Sellers sign a consignment agreement that allows for a 50-50 percentage split as well as a monthly decrease in selling price, up to six months.
For other decisions related to meeting the vision of her business plan, like what color to paint the walls, which carpeting to choose, even the font for the business logo and window sign, “you have to be the expert on everything. So many individual decisions, a non-stop string of things,” Stewart said.
Stewart, and even her dog, Sadie, 6, is happy with the decision she made to start her own consignment business, the attention it is receiving, and the activity surrounding the need being fulfilled by The Rickety Wagon. “I’ve been dreaming this for so long, the time was right to follow my dream,” she said.