Ex-office worker junks stable -- and dull -- career for labor of love Antique business is demanding but owner doesn't mind


Six years ago, Sherry Mercer was another office worker in nylon stockings and high heels clocking in at 9 and out at 5.

Now she's exchanged her business suit for jeans and tennis shoes.

She's also exchanged her 40-hour work week.

As owner of an antiques and collectibles shop in Glen Burnie, "I live, eat, and sleep it," Ms. Mercer says.

After six years, she still hasn't found time for a vacation (maybe next year, she thinks). When the store closes at 6, her day isn't done.

She still must keep appointments reviewing new merchandise, loading up her truck with goods and carting them back to the shop.

But she's not complaining.

Eating her lunch at her desk behind a display case of antique jewelry, she is surrounded by the objects she loves: iron bird cages, a '60s jukebox, antique beds, desks and cabinets. Her shop looks like grandma's attic.

It's hard to categorize her wares. Her business card describes her shop as having "an ever changing selection of antiques and other neat stuff."

For that reason, she calls her business at 7462-64 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., a building that used to house a tropical fish store, the Neatest Little Shop.

After 20 years as an office worker, Ms. Mercer said she got the confidence to change jobs in 1986 after her mother died. Rethinking the priorities in her life, she decided to try sales, at first selling advertising for newspapers and radio stations.

"I knew I liked working with the public. After that, I knew I couldn't go back to the office."

A longtime flea market buff, she eventually teamed up with a friend in Glen Burnie to open an antique and collectibles shop.

They launched the business without a strategic plan or feasibility study.

"I didn't do any of those things you're supposed to do," she confesses.

"I knew just enough to get myself in trouble."

Their first location was in an alley between the Kirkley Funeral Home and Bob's TV Service, at Fifth Street and Crain Highway. They printed up fliers and passed out business cards in the flea markets, but still there were lean days when not one person came into their shop.

Customers finally began to trickle in, and the reputation of the shop spread by word of mouth.

A few years later, her friend decided to give up the business, but Ms. Mercer continued.

Last September, she moved, more than doubling the size of her shop. To help maintain the building, she rented out the top floor of her shop to other dealers.

Despite the recession, or maybe because of it, the business continues to grow.

Ms. Mercer said she believes more people are decorating their homes with used furniture rather than buying new. They also are looking for flexibility. Some young couples have bought antique dry sinks for baby-changing tables.

When the baby is grown, they still have a decorative piece of furniture.

The business is more successful than she ever imagined. She is contemplating another expansion, and expects to hire her first employee later this year.

"I've worked harder than I ever have in my life, but it's more satisfying," she said.

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