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Treasure Hunter

By Meagan Russell
In Center Block
Sep 1st, 2021
0 Comments
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It’s not uncommon to find Jackie Murphy scouring the displays at estate sales and perusing antique and thrift store aisles in search of timeless pieces that catch her eye. Just like all secondhand shoppers, Murphy is searching for treasure, but unlike the other faces she meets at the local Goodwill or neighborhood garage sale, she’s not just picking up pieces to add to her personal collection, though she does have a special relationship with fashion herself.

ARTICLE BY STARLA GATSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

It’s not uncommon to find Jackie Murphy scouring the displays at estate sales and perusing antique and thrift store aisles in search of timeless pieces that catch her eye. “I’m very much drawn to pieces that I associate with Americana,” she explains. “They’re really classic pieces that never go out of style, which means you’re paying for it now, and you’ll be able to wear it forever. Denim, high-quality t-shirts that aren’t going to dissipate in two years, military fatigues — these pieces are just touchpoints of our culture, really, at this point.” 

Just like all secondhand shoppers, Murphy is searching for treasure, but unlike the other faces she meets at the local Goodwill or neighborhood garage sale, she’s not just picking up pieces to add to her personal collection, though she does have a special relationship with fashion herself. 

“I have never been embarrassed to stand out,” she says of the role clothing and style play in her life. “I’ve always used clothing, I think, as an outlet. I’m not very outspoken. I’m not extroverted, so when I come into a room, I’m not as likely to be the loudest or to verbally be making friends, so maybe what I wear is my way of doing that. It’s my way of stepping into a room and being seen and heard.” 

Despite this personal approach to clothing, most of her secondhand shopping is done for business purposes, as the brand strategist, web designer, and photographer has added one more thing to her resume: curator of vintage and secondhand clothing and goods. 

It may seem like an unusual endeavor, especially for one who has already established themselves in a completely different industry, but for Murphy, it just makes sense, as she has loved all things vintage for as long as she can remember. And with that love of yesteryear’s goods came a dream of one day owning a shop dedicated to selling vintage and secondhand gear. Rather than chasing that dream right away, however, Murphy sent it to the back burner, hoping to return to it when the time was right. 

“I am what people call multi-passionate, and I think most creatives are,” she explains. “We get something in our heads, and you have to sit on it because what you get in your head goes away. But for me, that’s how I know I should move on it — if I think about it, and I sit on it, and it stays. This has stayed for years.”

And move on it she has. In July 2020, Murphy launched Vintage General, an Instagram-based vintage and secondhand store on which she sells her unique finds to her followers. She began, of course, by sourcing pieces a wide range of people would be impressed with and interested in purchasing. Then, she posted photos of them on her account, and from there, the sales started rolling in. Later, the vintage-lover would take Vintage General’s sales away from the screen by bringing her items to farmers’ markets, local festivals, and pop-up shops, too. 

Though Murphy runs one of the only one of its kind in the Monroe-West Monroe area, the concept of using Instagram to conduct business with avid secondhand and vintage shoppers isn’t a new one. There are plenty of other Instagrammers buying and selling vintage gear on their accounts, just as Murphy does. It’s a trend that’s continuing to grow in popularity, and Murphy fully understands the appeal.

“It’s sustainable fashion, and more and more of us are trying to steer away from damaging our Earth,” she says of accounts that specialize in selling used clothing, accessories, and home goods. “When you shop vintage clothing and secondhand clothing, it is a way of reusing old resources and not creating more damage. I think that’s a big part of it.” Another reason these businesses are gaining traction, according to Murphy, is a bit lighter and is a tale as old as time: “What’s old is new. It’s all cyclical. Every generation wants to look back and pick what they think was the best about their parents’ generation and make it theirs.” 

No matter the reason one has for choosing secondhand style, there’s a chance they’ll find it at Vintage General, and so far, many members of the community have responded well to Murphy’s business. The supportive responses she has received have made her passion project, which began purely for the enjoyment of it, an even more gratifying experience. “I was finding so much joy in doing this thing, and the community was interested in it on top of it and saying, ‘I’ve been wanting something like this for years. We need this in our city.’ The joy mixed with the feedback is what pushed me to say, ‘You know what, you always wanted a vintage store. You’re only getting older every year. Why don’t you just do it?’” 

Murphy’s vintage store dreams don’t end with Vintage General. In fact, her Instagram sales were just the first step. Now, she’s on to the next one: a rebrand and a storefront. As of August 2021, Vintage General operates under a new name and Murphy has plans to sell the types of items she typically posts on her account from a physical location, hopefully in downtown Monroe. Add a few items crafted by local artisans — “movers, doers, and shakers,” as Murphy affectionately calls them — to the mix, and you’ve got Mercantile Monroe, the next phase of the vintage lover’s retail endeavors. 

Including the work of local artists and makers in her shop makes perfect sense to Murphy, as vintage goods and hand-crafted items are actually more similar than one might think, starting with the fact that they both give customers a chance to find something totally one-of-a-kind. Just like a piece made by a local craftsman, vintage gear stands out, Murphy explains. “When you’re going through a place that’s filled with vintage items, every piece is different from the next. It’s not like when you’re in a big box store and everything’s the same and all your friends have the same shirt or the same lamp. I notice that when you start picking vintage pieces, those are the things people notice about you and that they compliment you on.”

Quality is the second parallel drawn between the two categories of merchandise, Murphy says, adding, “Just to hold a vintage piece in your hand is different. What is made today is made to be disposable. If you pick up a vintage piece, it’s heavier, it’s a higher quality, there’s more attention to detail. The same with when you pick up a piece that’s made by a local craftsman; those pieces are made to last, they’re made to be special, and they’re made to stand out.”

Everyone who walks into the store will find the unique, high-quality pieces they’re looking for, plus a warm and welcoming environment that meets the needs Murphy noticed within the community when she and her husband first made their way to Monroe from Alabama years ago. “I noticed that there wasn’t a true vintage shop,” she says. “And then beyond that, spending seven years here and immersing myself and trying to become a part of the community as a creative, I noticed that there is an abundance of talent in our community.” Despite being filled to the brim with gifted creatives, however, Murphy says she didn’t see a consistent space dedicated to supporting them and selling their work. “I noticed there are night spots for these folks, but when it comes to shopping and merchandising, it was lacking; I see that hole.” 

And apparently, others saw the hole, too, and after reaching out to the connections she’s established in the area, she discovered many of them felt the same way she did. That was how she knew it was the right time for her to work toward a solution. 

Mercantile Monroe won’t be a typical store, its determined founder declares. Though customers can still expect to get their vintage and secondhand clothing fix there, the space will also be a place for connection and cultivating community. 

“I want this to be a place where we can all come together and feel welcome,” she says. “I want to host events. I don’t just want to have a shop; I want to have pop-ups for our local craftsmen that don’t make a product and make more of an experience. I want to have our musicians come and perform. I want it to be a real space where the creatives can get together, and everyone else can come and enjoy that.”

More than making a home for her carefully curated vintage finds and the items local creatives make, Murphy hopes Mercantile Monroe will help to “grow the ‘roe” and give the Twin Cities another new business to be excited about. At this article’s time of writing, Murphy is still searching for the perfect space for her shop to occupy, thus, opening dates haven’t been set. But when she lands on a location, Murphy hopes the little vintage shop of her dreams will further establish her position in the city she’s grown to appreciate.

“What I’m doing is taking this moment to set my roots in Monroe,” Murphy says. “I’m not from Monroe, but I have grown to be a part of Monroe, and I want to do my part and plant my roots in the community.”

To stay up-to-date on all things Mercantile Monroe, to find out more about Murphy and the goods she sells, or to purchase a few vintage and secondhand goodies of your own, follow her on Instagram @mercantilemonroe.

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