Next June will see the release of “Wonder Woman,” the most ambitious female-led superhero movie in years. Over the next year, you can expect to see the DC Comics goddess’ iconic “double-Ws” insignia on action figures, lunchboxes and T-shirts — as well as on the storefront of the Gallery in Old Town. The new boutique in Lansing’s historic shopping district is owned and operated by longtime estate sales/antiques professional Barb Jersey. The Gallery deals exclusively in merchandise culled from estate sales, and it’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been envisioning this space for the last five years, and it looks exactly like it did in my head,” Jersey said. “Hardwood floors, brick walls, chandeliers — it’s a little smaller than I’d hoped, but there’s plenty of room for growth.”
Jersey, 65, has been an entrepreneur for 29 years, including owning two antiques malls. The Gallery is a spinoff of the business she’s run for the last nine years: Wonder Women Estate Sales, the source of that WW in the front window. So what’s the association between the Amazonian comic book character and tasteful collections of gently used vintage clothing, furniture, jewelry and home furnishings?
“I wanted a classy name that would stick,” Jersey said. “Also, it comes up a lot when people do Internet searches. But there’s a distinction. Wonder Women is wherever we are, and the Gallery is the location. It’s not a warehouse or even a shop; it’s a gallery. I decided to go with (the Gallery) because ‘Wonder Women’ just seemed (inappropriate) being in the window of an 1885 building.”
Under her Wonder Women banner (the name is pluralized because her employees used to be exclusively women), Jersey conducts estate sales throughout Michigan, helping homeowners or the families of homeowners sell their belongings on-site. But Jersey said the industry has undergone a change in recent years.
“People used to stay in houses until they died, and their relatives held the estate sales afterward,” Jersey said. “Now people are living longer, and they have the time to downsize their estates by giving away their things to family members or selling them themselves. In recent years, by the time they call me, they didn’t have enough to have a full estate sale. I spent a lot of time turning them down.”
So Jersey created a new business model. Rather than turn down these smaller sales, she will now combine them with up to four others and conduct a single sale in a separate location — the Gallery. Jersey and her team will spend weeks prepping each sale, which will run Thursday through Saturday one weekend each month. The weekend will change depending on what events or festivals are happening in Old Town that month. What doesn’t sell will be restaged the following weekend for a two-day, half-off blowout before being sold to a liquidator. Then prep work begins for the next month.
“Since I came up with the idea, four other businesses like this have opened in other parts of the country, but they’re all doing it on a much larger scale,” Jersey said. “There’s one 80 miles outside Chicago that’s 26,000 square feet. I never envisioned anything that big, but by keeping it (smaller), I’ll be able to have a much more personal touch.”
Jersey said estate sales are a mostly solitary business, with salespeople ferociously guarding their trade secrets. But in the last few years, she’s seen a lot more networking, including the beginnings of a national association. There have even been three national conventions in the last three years, the first of which she served at as a speaker. She’s also using the Gallery as the home for the Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles, a two-day training session on identifying and appraising antiques and collectibles. The institute was started in Pennsylvania by her mentor, Harry Rinker, who has written several books on antiques and hosts a syndicated weekly call-in radio show called “Whatcha Got?” He had closed the school, but revived it last year in conjunction with Jersey.
“Harry is a good friend of mine and is the person who inspired me to go into business for myself almost 30 years ago,” Jersey said. “I’m very honored that he chose Old Town to restart the institute. It’s going to bring a lot of people to the area. The last one brought in 17 people from seven different states.”
Rinker will be a featured speaker Aug. 25 at the annual fundraiser for the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, which will be held at the Gallery in Old Town. He’ll also lead a live version of “Whatcha Got?,” with attendees invited to bring in any small unusual items from around the house — they must be small enough to be held in your hand — to see what they are and what they’re worth. The event will double as the launch of the August estate sale at the Gallery, which will continue through Aug. 27. Next month, Jersey will hold her official grand opening, one month before Wonder Woman herself makes her U.S. postage stamp debut.
“Harry is also on the national stamp committee, in a position assigned by the postmaster general, and it was his idea,” Jersey said. “The rest of the committee approved it because (it’s Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary as a character and) the movie’s coming out next year, but I know he really did it for me. It’s good to have friends in high places.”
The Gallery in Old Town/Wonder Women Estate Sales
108 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
Open by event only
(517) 256-0695, wonderwomen.biz
Historical Society of Greater Lansing Annual Fundraiser
7-9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25
The Gallery in Old Town
108 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
(517) 449- 8771, lansinghistory.blogspot.com