I felt it the moment I walked in.
It wasn’t anything physical. It was a vibe – a positive vibe that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but had to admit was there. As I walked into Eagle River’s Whatnot Consignment Shop, I was struck by the copious amounts of new and old stuff in the store and by the distinct warmth of a gracious proprietor.
It is actually striking how much fits within the four walls of that little store. There is a lot of stuff: old jewelry, new jewelry, wooden signs, kitchenware, house plants, artwork, purses of every color and shape, books, a fur coat with Alaska style trim, furniture, hand tools, and animal traps. If you can name a miscellaneous item that you are looking for, it is probably somewhere sitting on a shelf in that room. My brain was a little overwhelmed by the sensory overload of so much around me. Where did all this stuff come from?
A single item caught my eye amidst the endless waves of offerings- a vintage camera. It was one of several, neatly placed on a shelf. As I stared at it, I couldn’t help but wonder who owned this piece of history? What memories had it captured with its previous owner? How did it make its way to Alaska and end up here on this shelf in Eagle River? If only it could talk.
I was deep in thought, pondering the rich history of the old camera when a kind voice from the counter called out, “good morning!”
This wasn’t the first time I had met Becky Durst, owner of Whatnot Consignment, but it was the first time I had been in her shop. Her relaxed demeanor, coupled with her North Carolina accent welcomed me in and permeated the store with effervescent cheer.
Becky and her husband, both veterans, were transferred to Alaska in 1987 and have been here ever since. She had frequented the little shop, befriending the previous owner. She relished popping in and walking around to look at all of the treasures and just hanging out. One day she decided to tell the owner that if the day ever came when she wanted to sell, to give her a call.
The phone call came thirteen years ago, and after discussing her dream with her husband, Becky became the proud owner of her favorite little consignment shop. Woven into the fabric of her service in the Army here in Alaska and her studies at UAA, Becky’s full-time passion has been running Whatnot Consignment Shop. Her husband, two children, and close friends share her love for the store and help her with it.
Not long into my conversation with Becky, I began to see that her store is far more than a place to sell other people’s items. It was founded on relationships: her relationship with the previous owner, her relationships with customers, relationships with small businesses, and relationships with the friends and family who work alongside her.
“When Coleen [the previous owner] sold the shop to me, I gave my word that I would treat her customers just as well as she did, if not better,” said Becky. And she has endeavored to do just that. From day one, Becky has offered a veterans discount- in light of her personal connection to the armed forces. “I’ll close before I give that up. That’s my thing, I support the military,” she said proudly. But her generosity hardly stops there.
Many donations, both of money and goods, pass between Becky’s hands- who then facilitates getting them to people in need. She keeps a donation box and jar on her counter for various members of the community. Her efforts to raise money have helped alleviate the financial burdens that families have felt because of hardship or illness. She is currently using the money raised in her shop to support the family of an Eagle River man battling cancer. Aside from that, she has taken in goods to give to a family that lost their house in a fire, and stuffed animals for children coming into a fellow small business.
Becky is willing to open up the shop early or stay late for customers that can’t make it to the in during regular business hours. If she doesn’t have something that a customer is looking for, she makes every effort to help find it for them.
“I have a pink notebook where I write down who wants what. Then, I call them when I get it in…Every once in awhile I go back and call somebody that hasn’t lived here for 10 years. They often say that when they get back up here, ‘they’re comin’ back to my store!’ And that’s a good feeling.”
Odds and Ends
Amazingly, Becky keeps track of every single item in her store the old fashioned way. “I’m old school- I still do it with notebook paper and pen,” she says. She did break down and purchase a credit card machine, but it was with reluctance. “I thought about gettin’ me one of those scan systems. It does it all and would save me some time. But…nah. I’m not like that. It would make me like everybody else,” she says, punctuating her words with a big smile.
But despite her reluctance to fully adopt newer systems of technology, Becky has not been limited in her ability to serve all kinds of people who want to consign with her. She helps people with estate and liquidation sales, professional pickers and everything in between. But there are also a few things that she absolutely will not accept for consignment. Frankly, anything related to Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, and collectible plates or dolls. She draws the line there. Many people have come in trying to sell her on the idea of consigning these collectibles, but she’s learned that they never do sell. Chuckling when my eyebrow raised at the mention of Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians, she exclaimed “I just can’t stand ‘em! I don’t think they are very good role models…When I tell them [her clients], they laugh…But they agree with me!”
But that doesn’t stop Becky from keeping a wide array of eccentric treasures in her store. Some of the more unusual items have included an alligator head, a whiskey still, a galvanized bathtub, a buggy seat, a Kangaroo hide, a turtle shell and chicken feet. She balked at the recent sale of a pair of chicken feet to a man who liked to send gag-gifts to his uncle. “They were real chicken feet! Varnished! I kid you not. I didn’t realize they were in here.”
Becky diligently works to find space to accept most items that people bring to her. When put out, each thing usually has a 90-day rotation. If something is not sold during that time, it is rotated out of the store. The owners of the goods are then invited back to pick up their unsold items. When people forget or simply don’t return, she donates their things to charity.
The Warmth of Good Proprietorship
As I wrapped up my visit with Becky, I’m much clearer about why my first impressions in her shop were so distinct. In her own words, “there is a lot of goodwill that goes through this store. A lot.”
I couldn’t agree more. And it all starts with her. Becky warmly cultivates a relationship of kindness and generosity with every person she interacts with in her little shop. She ended our visit with a request that I urge people to try and pay kindness forward. “A lot of my customers do that already,” she stated. “Last week I had a man ask if I wanted a bag of clothes. I told him that I don’t consign clothes, but took the bag anyway and gave the clothing out to two different families. I’ve even had half-bags of dog food put on my counter to pass on. And I do.”
People give in many, many ways, and Becky Durst is honored to be a small part of that process within our community.