In Search of Antiques & Adventure
For the past twenty-five years, Melanie Liles and Pam Wood have explored England and Europe as business partners and dear friends. Their businesses – Traditions on Trenton plus online shops Etsy, Ruby Lane, and Chairish – have given them both the perfect excuse to travel and to shop. Someone once said that life is meant for good friends and great adventures. These good friends have lived life to the fullest, and shared some memorable adventures along the way!
article by / GEORGIANN POTTS
photography by / KELLY MOORE CLARK
One is a Louisiana native with roots running deep in North Louisiana. The other was born in Ohio, to parents who were native Mississippians. Those family connections in Mississippi helped create within her a “southern heart.” Although growing up geographically distant, both of these women possessed qualities essential to their future friendship and business: loyalty, honesty, and delicious senses of humor. They have needed all three to succeed.
Pam and Melanie speak lovingly of their childhoods, even though both were spent differently in some ways. Both were blessed with stay-at-home moms who saw to it that their daughters experienced the fun and freedom that childhood offers. Their dads worked in businesses (Pam’s dad was a building contractor and owned Allen Construction, and Melanie’s dad was in the automotive business) to support their families while their mothers managed the households and taught their children strong management skills by example.
For Pam, the rural countryside around Archibald and Mangham was her home territory that provided the backdrop for many early adventures. Keeping up with her two brothers turned Pam into something of a tomboy, and playing with cousins and friends nearby kept her busy. Like the other children, Pam always wanted to be outdoors, playing and exploring. “Electronics were nonexistent, and though I now have my fair share of them and use them regularly, back then we made our own fun,” Pam explains with a laugh. “There was always something going on and plenty to do.”
For Melanie, home growing up was Columbus, Ohio. She went to school in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a charming small town on the outskirts of the much larger Columbus. This gave her a childhood blessed with both “worlds” – suburban and urban. She also enjoyed going to Camp Sequoya near Abington, Virginia, for eight years. “Going to Camp Sequoya taught me to be independent,” Melanie says. “I made life-long friendships there. Because I was an only child, friendships have always been very important to me.”
To add to the mix, each year Melanie’s parents would spend at least a month “back home” in Mississippi. There Melanie, an only child, got to enjoy aunts, uncles, and cousins who instilled in her a love for the south. The large family holiday gatherings in Mississippi brought the entire family together.
Because her family has deep roots in Richland Parish, Pam also enjoyed the pleasure that family gatherings with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can bring. She remembers their “impromptu fish fries” as among her favorite family events. Summers also meant taking turns, staying at each other’s homes – a kind of rural “summer camp.”
Formal and Informal Education
Both Pam and Melanie had early career interests. Pam wanted to be a nurse when she grew up, and Melanie’s early career interest was in social work. The common denominator was that they both wanted to work in some capacity helping others.
Pam attended Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM) where English, math, and history were favorite subjects. Melanie followed her family’s tradition and attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, majoring in sociology. Some years later, she earned a Masters in history (a degree that reflected her love for antiques). Both later added Sotheby’s Antique School in London and the Southern Living Antique School in Charleston to their education. Clearly, their love of history and antiques was meant to bring them together as successful businesswomen.
Love and Marriage
Melanie met her husband, Arthur, while both were students at Millsaps. Pam met her late husband, Rusty, while they were in high school. For each, these important life choices not only positively impacted their lives, but also their future careers.
Pam worked for an attorney in Rayville (Warren Hunt) and later worked in Monroe for the Snellings, Breard, Sartor, Inabnett, and Trasher law firm. She loved both jobs, and often said that not a day went by during which she didn’t learn something new. After she married, Pam and Rusty bought the family farm in Cadeville and she turned her full attention to rearing their three children and turning the farm into a home. “The most personally rewarding – and biggest challenge – in my life has been being a mother. I must say that it was very gratifying work, and I loved every minute of it,” Pam remembers.
Melanie worked in Bossier Parish Child Protection for eight years while Arthur was in medical school and training. When her husband did a fellowship in Houston, she volunteered in Child Protection there, as well. Her early work in a settlement house in Ohio, and later volunteering at The Methodist Children’s Home in Jackson, Mississippi, helped prepare her for this work. “It was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” she says. “You learn that you can do almost anything if you can fight to protect children.”
Husbands Offer Support
Pam traces her love for antiques back to the times that she and Rusty would go to estate sales, looking for interesting furniture to fill their home. Rusty had always loved antiques, and was quite good at repairing and refinishing the pieces. “He was my personal mentor because I learned so much from him,” she recalls. “He was the ultimate encourager, always supportive. I think he enjoyed living vicariously through my adventures with the shop!”
Melanie had loved antiques all of her life and after having two children found herself exploring an entirely new career path – the antique business. The “hunt” was as much fun as the “find” to her, and gave her an excuse to travel, meet really interesting and wonderful people, and to “support” her antiquing habit!
Both ladies are emphatic about the importance of the support – emotionally and financially — that their husbands gave to them when they ventured out into antiques as a business instead of a hobby. Both agree that Rusty, a regional bank president, and Arthur, a urologist, could not have been more encouraging. Each man had stressful careers, but they found time to encourage their wives to “step out” and follow their dreams.
From a practical perspective, the husbands also came through. For Pam and Melanie to start their business, they needed seed money. Rusty and Arthur loaned them $6,500 so that they could buy an estate in Alabama. “When they stopped mentioning loan repayment, we stopped making the payments,” Melanie says with a laugh. Both ladies say that their husbands were clearly proud of their wives’ success, and were “ahead of their time” in helping their wives to achieve.
The two began by offering their antiques for sale in antique malls where they were known as “The Antique Ladies”. After some time, they decided to take the leap and form a company. The name, Traditions on Trenton, was a joint decision. “Traditions” came from their shared value for family traditions. The “on Trenton” part was their tip of the hat to the iconic English towns that they loved (Newark on Trenton, Stow-on-the-Wold, etc.). It was a brilliant marketing move to attract English buyers to their wares.
Oh, the Places (They) Will Go
It is easy to think of Dr. Seuss and his book, Oh, the Places We Will Go, when one hears some of the many adventures that Pam and Melanie have experienced together through their business. They are living proof that a sense of humor is indeed critical to survival in their business.
Pam and Melanie have traveled to England and Europe over forty times, and filled up several passports each. With a chuckle, they say that their shippers in England refer to them as “the girls” and are always wondering what trouble they are going to get into. That curiosity is well-placed!
While on a buying trip to Europe, Pam lost her front tooth in a baguette in Belgium. They had a flight to England, so they super-glued it at the airport. “My finger was stuck in her mouth briefly,” Melanie says. “By the way, using the super glue for a quick dental repair is not recommended by dentists!”
Actually, several of their adventures have concerned airports, either directly or indirectly. Once Rusty sent them off with a lovely box of chocolate candy. As they sat in the Crown Room at the Atlanta airport munching on their chocolates, it occurred to them that they had forgotten Atlanta is an hour later in time zone than Monroe. They ran to their gate, only to find the plane gone and a lady sweeping the area. The tale ended well, however. They were able to bribe the Delta agent with chocolate so they could get on the next flight.
Another memorable – and even more hair-raising adventure – began with a frantic call from Melanie to Pam, telling her that she could not find her passport. The call came just as Pam was leaving home for the airport, so there wasn’t a moment to spare. “Trust us, a passport can be gotten in Atlanta in a 4-hour layover,” Pam reports. “When Melanie’s passport was reissued, everyone in the Passport Office stood up and cheered!” Melanie made it back and boarded just as the doors were being closed. Pam was waiting for her with her carry-on luggage and a glass of champagne.
During the first few trips, Pam was the driver with Melanie “working” the roadmaps. On one of these, Pam forgot her driver’s license and was unable to drive in England. There was no choice – Melanie had to drive. “I learned under fire to drive in England, and I got us stuck in a cow pasture,” Melanie says with a grin. “We had to have the car towed. I got used to it over time, though, and now my problem is remembering to drive on the right when I get back home. Watch out if you see me coming!”
Once when going to France to buy, the two decided to leave their rental care on the coast of England with the plan to retrieve it when they finished the French portion of their trip. On their return trip, they took the Chunnel from France and fell asleep. They woke up in London! They quickly took a train back to the English coast where they found their car, safe and sound.
As luck would have it, Pam and Melanie were at an outdoor antique fair in England when the terrorist planes hit the twin towers in New York City. Their shippers and English antique dealers ran to give them the horrifying news. They quickly learned that all flights anywhere had been canceled and that they were facing days before they would be able to leave the country.
Both say that the English could not have been more accommodating or nicer to the two stranded ladies. They learned that there was going to be a special tribute to the victims at Westminster Abbey, so they decided to go. They arrived late and were standing at the door when they noticed a limousine arriving. To their surprise, Mick Jagger jumped out (“wearing a pea green suit”) and walked toward the Abbey’s entrance. Pam and Melanie were hurried into the Abbey just behind Jagger because everyone assumed they were with him. The ladies were seated right behind Jagger. They caught one of the first flights out five days later, armed with priceless memories! “One lady asked if she could audition for us for American television,” Melanie recalls.
There were other, somewhat smaller adventures. Melanie fell out of an antique dealer’s truck in England and broke her foot. They had to have their car towed in Bath. And there was the time they had just spent an especially long and stressful day and were in the parking lot, unloading their car and tagging their purchases. They decided to treat themselves, and ordered champagne delivered to them right there at the lot.
Time’s Passage and the Pandemic
Among Pam’s favorite travel memories was a trip she took after her husband retired. They flew to England, rented a car in Manchester, and traveled all over northern England and Scotland using Rusty’s family genealogy (he had composed a notebook with all the family information that he had to take along) as a guide. They sought out people and places that he had always wanted to track down. Their search was fruitful, thanks to the documented history that they uncovered. A leisurely trip back to the States aboard the Queen Mary completed the adventure.
Five years ago, Pam lost her beloved husband, Rusty. The adjustment has been gradual, but with the support of her children and grandchildren, it has gradually happened.
Melanie and Arthur are also enjoying their two children and their families. They have five grandchildren, and love spending time together with their entire family as often as possible. In May, they will be touring the country in their Roadtrek van, a pastime that they both enjoy. Yellowstone is their destination, with a grandson in tow.
Technology has directly impacted their business. At the beginning, Pam and Melanie would be driving somewhere in the middle of France or England without a GPS or a cell phone. “Neither of us were very good at reading maps, so this was quite the challenge,” Pam remembers. “We also didn’t have bank accounts or know how to wire money so we were always traveling with large sums of cash. What’s the old saying about babies and fools?”
More Than Ready to Travel Again
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all travel was curtailed. Shipping between England and the USA became more difficult – and expensive – and BREXIT complicated things, as well. Now, as restrictions are beginning to be lifted, they are feeling the travel urge once again. When they do finally get back to England, Melanie predicts that they are going to “blow it out!”!
When asked recently if they were to encounter a young person considering a career in antiques, what advice would they give? They were quick to respond. “Our advice would be to not only read and research everything they could get their hands on but also to get out there and see for themselves the different types of antiques,” they said. “Books and iPads are good, but nothing compares to seeing and touching the real thing. Also buy only what you like. It’s hard to sell if you don’t. We always did this because we knew if a piece didn’t sell, one of us would have to take it home!”
It is clear that these two have learned the joy that friendship and a shared interest — and a love for adventure — can bring. As Mark Twain once advised, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”