Written by: Lori Wilson | Photographed by: Arthur Green
For almost two decades, The Ivy Cottage, voted best antique shop and home goods retailer for 16 years, has served as Market Street’s ever-changing treasure chest. But unlike other hidden riches, this one never seems to empty, full of both figurative and literal gems. With 25,000 square feet of space and more than 100,000 décor items, this high-end consignment boutique at 3030 Market Street offers a special find for spectators of all types, from seasoned antiquers to summer tourists.
Made up of three buildings, The Ivy Cottage provides a bold antiquing journey for those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. But if you’re arriving with a mission, consider where to start first.
Building One opened at the time of the business’s conception in 1998 and stocks reclaimed mid-century modern items among other distinctive pieces. Next door at Building Two, incorporated in 2002, you’ll find more high-end classical items such as hand-knotted Persian rugs, as well as, an entire department on fine jewelry. The last building, added only a few years ago, joined its cottage neighbors after a Pearsall’s garden supply store moved out. Here you’ll now find seasonal items and coastal-themed furniture, in addition to the miscellaneous pieces supplied throughout each shop.
“Depending on what building you’re in, there are just different feelings,” says owner Andrew Keller.
Having bought the business in 2013, Keller has owned The Ivy Cottage for only about a quarter of its life, but he’s certainly been around long enough to see it grow. In 2001, just before Building Two opened, the previous owner asked Keller to join the team as a delivery driver. He continued working at The Ivy Cottage while studying as UNC Wilmington and then received an offer to come on full-time after his graduation.
“Growing up, my parents were antiquers,” Keller says. “They would drag me, but I got interested in it. And ever since then I’ve always been interested in older things. I was a picker before I started working full-time. I’d bring a lot in here before I even knew I was going to own it.”
“We might have it for a week looking to see what it is and where it was made just because it’s interesting more than anything else,” he continues.
The Ivy Cottage is very much a family operation. Keller’s wife does all the accounting at home, and you may often find his young daughter smudging her fingers against the jewelry cases or his son eyeing the paper weights.
More than that, The Ivy Cottage staff is a family of its own — a large one of 38, including consignment, sales, warehouse, merchandising, jewelry, and design. Many of Keller’s employees have been with the business for more than ten years.
“We have people who come in every day just to see what’s new, and everyone knows each other’s names,” Keller says. A regular visitor even brings Oreos and Twizzlers to the employee who tags merchandise.
The Ivy Cottage intends for all consigned items to be purchased within four months, so items are priced to sell and inventory consistently rotates. The business continues to offer personable and memorable experiences even though nearly all of the inventory comes from consigners, of which there are a whaping 9,500 just in the last year.
Keller accredits this to the business’s dedication to some old-school practices.
“We’re deliberately old school,” he says. “We choose to have a technological handicap. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I don’t want to get to that being everything electronic. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
The Ivy Cottage is dedicated to good old-fashioned commerce, even when it takes some extra good old-fashioned time.
“We have consigners, and we have customers. And then we have customer-consigners,” Keller explains. “We don’t do barcodes. Everything is manually entered. It’s very hands-on. We have four people who sit at computers all day and do input, and there it goes to that table, and from there it gets shelved. If it were barcoded, it would just be robotic I guess. There’s a reason we stay away from that.”
But just because The Ivy Cottage has some old-fashioned values doesn’t mean their business model isn’t growing.
“I’m always trying different things and trying to keep on top of what’s selling and what’s not,” Keller says. “One month we might sell out of sofas and then the next month we may not sell any. We have to keep what’s coming in fresh.”
The Ivy Cottage staff may see up to 500 items each day. Not everything can be consigned, but patrons can choose to donate their items on-site instead. At the nearby warehouse, tax receipts are available for donations to groups such as Saving Animals During Disasters (SADD) and Pender County Humane Society.
According to its owner, The Ivy Cottage’s greatest asset is word of mouth.
“Everybody knows us,” he says. “We actually run deliveries all day. You’ll see we go to one house one month and then we’re at their neighbor’s house the next month and then we’re at their neighbor’s house later that year. We have that reputation.”
In addition to furnishing homes, The Ivy Cottage revitalizes the lost art of antiquing. Just like its inventory, the boutique’s shoppers vary in age and style.
“It’s an evolving thing,” Keller says. “It changes all the time in here.”
For more information about the consignment process and current inventory, visit www.threecottages.com or call (910) 815-0507.