ClearingHouse eXchange Consignment Store & Estate Sale company

Newsday

BARGAIN HUNTING

Consigning used stuff to the possibilities

BY AIMEE FITZPATRICK MARTIN
Special to Newsday

June 29, 2006

One of the things that surprised Victoria Collett when she moved to Long Island six years ago was the area’s lack of consignment shops. Back in her native California, nearly every town had one, she remembered, and they were filled with top-quality, gently used furnishings – not the kind of dusty, second-hand castoffs she was finding at local thrift stores.

Believing there was a market for a high-end consignment shop in the Hamptons, where she had settled, Collett approached her partner, James “Nick” Nicolino, a Uniondale native with 20 years’ experience as a property manager for exclusive estates in the Hamptons, about starting a business together. Three years ago, they opened The ClearingHouse on busy County Road 39 (Route 27) in Southampton, and today the store has more than 200 consignors. The jam-packed 7,200- square-foot showroom offers an eclectic mix of furniture, rugs, drapes, lamps, artwork, lawn and garden accessories, and a smattering of antiques and collectibles – all in mint condition and all sold at nearly wholesale prices.

Bolstered by the success of the Southampton store, Collett and Nicolino opened a second branch in Greenport on the North Fork last month, and are eyeing a third location in the Smithtown, Port Jefferson or Stony Brook area.

“For me, it’s like Christmas every day – the excitement of never knowing what we’ll get in the store because it’s all one of a kind,” Collett said.

Recent offerings included an antique Eastlake mahogany mirror and fireplace mantel; retro-chic rattan furniture from the 1950s; Venetian glass vases; an etching by actor Lionel Barrymore; a set of 10 barely used Donghia dining room chairs priced at $5,800 ($9,000 new) and a $20,000 custom-made Tomlinson Italian damask silk couch marked down to $1,500.

Nicolino said most pieces sell for 25 to 75 percent of their original retail value, and the store’s mark-down policy – which slashes an item’s price by 20 percent every month it remains on the floor (up to four months) – ensures a fast-moving inventory and, best of all, rock-bottom prices for shoppers.

“Everyone loves a bargain,” he explained. “Our customers range from the newly married couple from Manorville trying to furnish their first house on a shoestring to the guy driving a Maserati who’s buying stuff for his 8,000-square-foot mansion.”

Several times a year, Collett and Nicolino are asked to conduct on-site tag sales, as they did earlier this month for a wealthy client (with a Park Avenue apartment and a home in Greenwich, Conn.) who had just sold her estate in Sag Harbor. The compound included a rambling 19th-century Victorian with a turret and wraparound porch, and a smaller, three-bedroom “cottage.”

A house full of stuff

“Typically, we get calls from people who’ve sold their house – and made a lot of money in the process – and they’re stuck with a house full of furnishings they no longer want. It almost becomes a liability for them. Storage is expensive, and they don’t want the hassle of selling the stuff themselves,” he said.

As Nicolino predicted on the morning of the sale, within minutes of its 9 a.m. opening, dozens of bargain hunters were on site, scurrying through the large rooms to see what treasures they could scoop up. By 9:15, many of the items were already marked “sold” and shoppers were carrying tables, lamps and chairs out the door, or arranging for The ClearingHouse’s delivery service.

Virginia Bennett, of Sag Harbor, came with her friend Diane Crawford, whom she called “a yard sale nut par excellence.” The women had already been to several tag sales that morning, but were eager to see the inside of a house they had always admired from the curb. “This is an exceptionally nice estate sale with appropriate prices,” said Crawford, who admitted to being disappointed that several items she liked were already sold.

Nancy Merritt, a curious neighbor, stopped by to see the old estate, a former boarding house that her sister had worked at “years ago” when it was a bed and breakfast. She whispered to her friend that she thought the prices “weren’t that good.” Out in the parlor, Nicolino – clad in a red apron and carrying a walkie-talkie, notepad and pen – followed Howard Epstein, a Fifth Avenue dentist, and his wife, Pat, writing down the items they wanted to buy for their daughter, Amy, for her newly renovated New York apartment.

Buying by committee

“Howard, Howard! What about this runner?” Pat shouted to her husband, who was examining chairs in the next room.

By 10:30, the Epsteins – with the approval of their daughter via cell phone – had settled on four rugs, two chairs, two ottomans, a sofa, an Impressionist-style painting and a lamp – all for a grand total of $2,987.05, including tax.

“OK, Howard, now show me the plastic,” joked Nicolino as his mother, Ginny, who sat at the front entrance accepting cash and credit cards, looked on.

After the sale, a tired-but-happy Nicolino reported that nearly everything had been sold, except for some big-ticket items such as a massive dining room table ($7,500) with 18 chairs ($2,700) and a 10-foot antique pine hutch ($9,500). The remaining items were moved to The ClearingHouse’s Southampton store for the next round of bargain seekers.

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