Arkansas Pickers

Arkansas Pickers

Collector turns passion into profit


Linda Rogers, owner of Possum Valley Vintage, has had a love affair with all things dusty, rusty and junky for as long as she can remember. Initially, she bought for herself: a beautiful set of Bentwood chairs to go around the dining room table, sets of lovely china on which to serve meals. She taught English in high school for over a decade, raised a family and thought hunting for old stuff was just a hobby. But then she met her second husband, Jamey, who was stationed in Connecticut in the military, and hunting for treasure became almost an obsession.

“The estate sales up there are amazing,” Rogers says. “People don’t sell used toys and clothes; everything they sell is old. You can buy a legitimate antique for $5 or $10.

“We started doing that every weekend, and then we started selling on eBay. We mostly sold vintage Christmas at first because there was tons of it up there,” she continues. “One time, at the end of an estate sale, I bought an entire basement filled with vintage Christmas for $5. It was a huge truckload of vintage glass. He was going to throw everything away — there’s so much old up there, I guess they don’t care that much about it. At one sale, when I walked by the Dumpster, I could see a strand of vintage Christmas lights on top, and I asked the owner if I could grab them. I sold those for $80.”

Rogers was understandably hooked. When she and Jamey moved down to Arkansas, they got rid of their furniture and used the moving truck to transport all of the vintage and antique treasures they had collected. Rogers was still primarily selling on eBay while having the occasional garage sale when her collections started taking over the house.

“Everybody that showed up to buy were dealers, and one of them said, ‘You need to get a booth,’” says Rogers. “I had thought of it before, but Jamey didn’t think we could make any money at it.” This time, Rogers decided to give it a try. Her first booth was inside Somewhere in Time in Rogers, and her skill at merchandising and styling was immediately apparent. “I almost sold out the first weekend — my booth got wiped out,” she says. “We were both surprised that it took off so fast.”

Hitting the road

Nearly everything she was selling at the time came either from her house or from the store of antique goodies she had moved with her from Connecticut. Rogers realized pretty quickly that, the way her merchandise was selling, she would need to find a steady supply of wares to keep up with the demand. She found garage and estate sales in the immediate Northwest Arkansas area lacking after the largess of the Northeast, so she started expanding her shopping radius. Traveling to more remote, rural areas was key, she says — places where the junk was plentiful but dealers were few. Rogers regularly drives to Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Texas to shop.

She was also discovering that her naturally friendly, outgoing nature came in handy.

“Getting in the car, driving a little ways and going into a shop and talking to the people often leads to them saying, ‘Hey, I know so-and-so has this,’” she says. “Meeting people who introduce you to other people who tell me about another little shop or barn somewhere else — it’s how, as I put it, I find my things ‘in the wild’. It’s almost a gambler’s rush, when you find good stuff. It’s a treasure hunt, and I’m a junk detective. Maybe it’s just that one person you meet in another state — they’re your conduit to a whole treasure trove of other people. When I first started out, I had one picker friend, and now I have multiple names in my phone who are pickers.”

Her adventurous spirit has led to experiences that run the gamut from terrifying to terrific.

“I’ve been really lucky to go in a lot of places that are the sort of places that you see on ‘American Pickers’ — just an overwhelming hoarding of stuff, and, sometimes, the people who have it may not appreciate it,” she says. “Maybe it belonged to their grandparents, and it’s just junk to them. Last summer, we went to Texas — a person had died and had stored all of this stuff in a barn that was tied up in probate for years. Finally, someone called me who knew I loved stuff like this, and we got to go up and go through the barn — boxes that hadn’t been opened in 30 years. It was exciting, right up until the time I opened up a box with a live snake in it, coiled up and hissing. But once I got the snake out of it, I got some good stuff out of the bottom of that box. Jamey said I screamed louder than a girl in a slasher movie.”

She’s also got a book’s worth of stories about the different people she’s met in her travels. Take the man in one junk shop who scared her so badly she won’t go back. When she noticed a framed photo of a seemingly happy family, she commented how nice it was to the shop owner.

“He got a funny look on his face and said, ‘I would kill my wife today if I could get away with it — she and her brother, too,’” Rogers remembers. “I got out of that store pretty quickly.”

But there are lovely memories, as well. She met an Oklahoma collector named Paul last year. Paul’s collection included a 1929 Model A Ford that was used in the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows.” He also has a 1936 Ford Coupe that he bought by saving up his pennies when he was 16.

“He drove that car to Missouri to pick up his wife when he married her,” says Rogers. “She passed away two years ago, but just before she did, he picked her up from her wheelchair and put her in the car and took her for one last spin in it. He said she was the most wonderful wife in the world.”

It’s those stories, the history of the items she finds, that keep the fire alight inside her for this work. Still, it’s hard work: After a few years in the business, Jamey started helping her and, says Rogers, business exploded as a result.

“When I started in this business, I was territorial; it was my business. I really wanted something to do on my own. But when I brought Jamey into it, that’s when it really took off. I started wanting to buy bigger pieces, but I couldn’t handle it on my own. He was helping me go get stuff, helping me with repairs — I realized he was doing a lot of the work, and he was very good at that, even though he had never done woodworking before. Now, it’s to the point where if I can find a picture to show him, or if I can dream it up, he can build it.”

No place like home

With Jamey’s help, the pair started buying the giant, multi-drawer tool, apothecary and library cabinets they’ve become known for. Jamey refinishes them, or adds a top if necessary, and by the time the duo is through, they’ve got gorgeous antiques with lustrous wood finishes. But even with Jamey’s help, it’s back-breaking work. At one point, Rogers had booths in three different flea markets. Soon, she expanded to shows, and Possum Valley Vintage was even in a prominent antique market near the Magnolia district in Waco, Texas. The heavy lifting and constant travel had the team considering retirement when Rogers was hit by a flash of inspiration: She had found an amazing storage/workshop space in Siloam Springs, where she lives, and the landlord was amenable to her having occasional sales there.

“Now, we can work on a piece in one shop and roll it a few yards into the next shop,” says Rogers. They’ve had periodic sales for over a year now and have been pleasantly surprised by the result. “We’ve found the pop-ups to be just as profitable, open only one weekend, as it is to be in a mall every day of the month. The event has the anticipation, similar to a show, and the urgency — people know they only have one weekend to buy. They come with money in hand, because you’re only open that weekend.”

When you attend one of Rogers’ sales, it’s hard to remember that it’s just a temporary shop: She stages her wares so skillfully, it feels as though you’re in a permanent space, an upscale antique and gift shop. Her style is difficult for her to describe — the closest she can get is “modern farmhouse” — because it’s entirely her own. You won’t find a lot of painted furniture; Rogers prefers the warm glow of natural wood and refinishes and refurbishes antique pieces until they gleam like new. She favors neutrals, and there’s an organic feel to everything you see. A lot of her accessories include birds, nests and other touches from nature. Most striking are the large, antique cabinets — so hard to find, yet Rogers seemingly has a magic knack for sussing them out. Rogers calls them “statement pieces” that can take center stage in even the largest of living spaces. Whatever you call her style, you have to call it popular; Rogers has a prominent social media following and attracts crowds from across the United States to her sales.

“We have steady, repeat customers that are coming every time we open, and it’s getting better every time as word spreads,” she says. “At one of our sales, we had people from five states. They follow us on social media. One person was going to visit family in Texas and came out of her route two or three hours to come and see us. We regularly have people who come from two or three hours away.

“The best thing is that you get to know these people, and chat back and forth on messages. When you’re in a mall, you never know who your stuff went home with. Some of our customers are such repeat customers that I know what their home looks like, so I can buy things with them in mind. It makes the job a lot more fun.”

Rogers loves her job so much that she’s working on an e-book that will help others pursue the same path she has.

“I feel like I want to pass on some of the things I learned to people who are maybe just starting out, so maybe they won’t have to learn things the hard way, the way I did,” she says. “I do have people message and say, ‘Will you give me tips?’ I don’t think people realize that this can be a viable way of making a living. We’ve both said that if we had found this to do at 30, this would have been our career. It pays for travel, it pays for vacations, and you can be out there picking and then also sightseeing. It’s a great job.”



Linda Rogers says a Fall pop-up is in the works. For more information on upcoming sales, follow Possum Valley Vintage on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Categories: Maker Space