Mt. Pleasant Donald Cline puts it like this: Ive always been bad to buy junk.
The feisty owner of Clines Country Antiques, 35 miles northeast of Charlotte, runs a sprawling operation with several barns filled with furniture, ornamental cast iron, books, doors and window, art prints, lamps, yard art the list goes on and on.
About 80 percent of Clines customers are commercial dealers like himself, coming from across the South and as far away as Nevada and Colorado. He often sells to designers creating rustic looks for restaurant chains such as Cracker Barrel and Lone Star Steakhouse. Other dealers regularly troll the Cline grounds for treasures to hawk on eBay. Professional home builders know they can find unusual materials for custom jobs.
The remaining 20 percent are just people looking for collectibles and unique items for their homes and yards.
Not exactly a hippie
Cline, 72, was born on the Cabarrus County land thats been in his family since 1840 and still lives there. His mother was a librarian; his father, a chicken farmer. Donald went to N.C. State to study poultry science, earning his masters degree before joining the U.S. Naval Reserve during the Vietnam era. When he got out of the service he began working on a doctorate in agricultural economics, stopping a completed dissertation shy of his Ph.D.
About that time the bottom dropped out of the egg market, so Clines dad quit farming. He was planning to tear down all the buildings, but Donald prevailed on him to leave them standing.
I wasnt a hippie exactly, but I was a back-to-the-land type person, he recalls.
I just couldnt see getting rid of buildings that might have some use some day.
He had always had the tendency to buy stuff. My sister is an anthropologist, and she says I was extremely tight as a kid and notorious to save up my allowance so I could buy stuff that nobody else wanted, Cline says. My wife calls it an obsession, but my sister says its this pent-up desire to buy stuff.
What kind of stuff? Old cars, state surplus supplies, a trailer-load of 1930 license plates, you name it. My business sort of evolved from there.
Making it official
After leaving the Navy and school, he started teaching economics but dabbled in buying and selling stuff. Hed haul a load of his finds in the back of his 54 Chevy truck and trade it for another load of stuff. Along the way hed earn a profit, even though that wasnt the real motivation. He loved the hunt for the treasures.
By 1975 he had hung a sign out, making the business official. Before long he left teaching to concentrate on junk full time, which includes frequent trips around the state to auctions and to scout merchandise. Eventually he hired a couple of employees, but its still an intensely personal operation. When he turned 65 he promised Vickey, his wife of more than 30 years, that he would cut back. But he really hasnt.
Ahead of his time?
He takes time out to track investments, and is trying to comply with Vickeys advice to stick with short-term deals rather than buying a trailer-load of hubcaps that could take years to sell off. I did just get a great deal on 1,000 pens, though, he confesses with a grin. Couldnt turn that one down.
In a wry cosmic twist, after a lifetime of dealing in stuff that many people cast off as useless, Cline is now being seen as a man ahead of his time an environmentalist.
Mine has always been a green business, he observes. Course, nobody called it that back then. Im saving this stuff from the landfill.
Moreover, he adds, Due to the recession, people are a whole lot more interested in repurposing stuff now than they were before.
You wont find anything with a price tag at Clines. It would take one full-time employee just to price stuff, he said. So transactions are handled more informally. Buyers and sellers usually ask, What would you take for this?
Cline is known as a shrewd, fair businessman among his loyal customers. Theres no haggling.
He tells you his price and thats it, says Joe Smith of Salisbury. And usually you cant beat it anywhere else.
Nancy Green of Mt. Pleasant, another regular customer, says, For those of us who are willing to be patient, and develop a good eye for stuff were going to find some really valuable stuff at Clines, says Green, an occupational therapist.
And then theres this warning from Clines website: This is not a prissy place. Dress to rummage.
And leave yourself plenty of time. After all, you cant rush a treasure hunt.
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