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For Annapolis consignment shop owner, secondhand is first love

One Petticoat Lane offers customers chance to see items as 'art through different eyes'

By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

4:10 PM EDT, July 8, 2012

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Perky sunflowers, fragrant lavender and vibrant greenery surround a creaky wooden porch full of oddities on an Annapolis side street. A well-used plow, a porcelain wash basin and a cast-iron stove hardly seem germane to a consignment shop filled with high fashion, assorted art and tony accessories, as well as the occasional piece of vintage furniture.

Owner Stella Breen-Franklin typically greets shoppers to One Petticoat Lane with an effusive "Wahoo!" and a cup of steamy tea, mint- flavored but never, ever iced, even when temperatures reach triple digits. In the British tradition, everyone takes tea hot, said the 47-year-old proprietor of a consignment boutique in what many consider the state capital's arts district.

The business' name sprang from the owner's British roots, her affinity for flea markets and all manner of oddities found therein, and, finally, a Christmas gift from her teenage son.

"Petticoat Lane in London is a street filled with flea markets," Breen-Franklin said. "I added 'One' to the name because this is my first store. When my son gave me the Web domain as a present, I knew I had to take the plunge."

Ever upbeat, Breen-Franklin, who relocated to the U.S. from England 12 years ago, did not lose the casual, homey feel when she converted a house into shop. She has filled the rooms with consignments and her own finds, often purchased at other consignment stores she patronizes. And she asks customers to take a second look.

"I keep my eye out at estate sales, auctions and flea markets," she said. "Anything that is interesting and exciting, I can repurpose. I am very green that way."

She features the works of local artists and hosts a monthly reception, where wine replaces tea. She frequently sits down with a customer, gets acquainted, then recommends appropriate items.

The shop walls sport ever-changing vignettes that show off her artistic flair as well as her wares. She has much material to draw from and constantly remakes the decor.

"Every time a customer enters, I want them to enjoy a visual feast," Breen-Franklin said. "I change the aesthetic all the time."

Her customers, whose numbers have grown steadily since the store opened 16 months ago, notice.

"She displays everything so beautifully that I have wanted to buy back some of my own stuff," said Francesca Cartwright, who consigns and shops. "She truly appreciates the beauty in the products she is trying to sell, and she makes real quality merchandise affordable."

In the foyer, fresh sunflowers grace a collage of empty gold frames hung above a small wooden chair, so worn that its several layers of paint are visible. Another room is filled with several outmoded scales and other 20th-century artifacts, including a manual typewriter and dime-store cash register.

"I just want people to rethink and look at these things as art through different eyes," she said.

Different eyes might see a piece of sculpture in the weathered wood of an oxen yoke or perhaps a coffee table in a train station's scuffed luggage platform, she said.

"Just because something is old, it's not bad, and new is not always best," she said. "Furniture has a story to tell, a life of its own, and it can enhance any environment."

Although a shop of her own had long been her intention, the road to One Petticoat Lane hads a few turns, Breen-Franklin said. While teaching at Anne Arundel Community College, the Severna Park resident took a small-business course and scouted possible locations. To gain retail experience, she worked a holiday stint at a department store.

When the house on Annapolis Street became available, she knew the time had come. Located just past aU.S. Naval Academygate and next door to Art Things, the spot met her quirkiness quotient.

"If Annapolis has an arts district, it's here," she said. "I fit right in with all the artsy people here. Now I have become kind of a hub, where everyone stops in to say, 'Hi, Stella.' It's like the local post office in England."

Her husband, Nic, and teenage children Isaac and Faith nudged her toward her dream, she said, and have kept their promises to help. They all work with her in the business, when they have time away from college and, in Nic's case, an IT consultant's job.

Serendipity connected her to Cartwright, a woman whose closets and basement were bursting with high-end fashion and whose discards eventually helped fill at least one room of the shop. Breen-Franklin quickly stocked the remaining spaces in the two-story building.

"It is quite fun to go in and see what Stella has found," Cartwright said. "It really is a surprise every time."

Cartwright just purchased white cowboy boots and a matching Western hat with an ostrich feather.

"Who knows where I will wear it, but I had to buy it," she said.

Used clothing has long been in vogue in England, where attire is considerably more expensive, Breen-Franklin said. In art school, where she majored in textile and design, "secondhand was positively trendy," she said. She is staking her business on the idea that trend is a natural progression that will take hold in America.

"Business is splendid," she said. "At least, that is what my accountant tells me."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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