For Susan Starr and Cindi Ryland, collecting and selling antiques is a pastime that has become profitable.
The women own and run Starry Night Antiques, a business on Ellicott City's Main Street that is achieving success in a historic district known for its antiques, boutiques and restaurants.
Anticipating a second profitable year, the owners want to develop an inventory of older and more expensive pieces to distinguish the shop from the hundreds of dealers in town.
"While we were first timid about buying the high-end items, we do find [that customers] will buy it," said Starr, who began the business in 1994 as an independent dealer in one of Ellicott City's antiques malls.
"We're able to gradually move some of the true antiques in to replace some of the 20th-century pieces," she said.
In a town filled with antiquity, Starry Night sells mostly furniture, lighting fixtures and serving pieces. Customers and competitors describe the merchandise in Starry Night's 1,000 square feet of space at the bottom of Main Street as high-end antiques. The shop, with showcase windows that are meticulously decorated, is filled with more than 2,800 items at any given time, Starr said.
Last month, the company was chosen from among several in the county to decorate the master bedroom in Historic Ellicott City's Decorator Showcase, an annual event that raises money for the historic group and the B&O; Railroad Museum.
"It's a big honor to be selected," said Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association.
Starr and Ryland decorated the room and lent pieces to decorators of other rooms. One large piece on display was sold for $4,500, Starr said. It was one of the largest sales from the house this year.
The showcase "was a good thing for us, in that we were able to gain additional exposure," she said.
Three years after starting in the antiques mall, Starr moved the business into a 500-square-foot space in a three-story building on Main Street. Within a year, she had moved into the shop's current location - a single-story retail space that was twice as large.
It was also about then that Ryland, a fellow hockey mom, joined the business, watching the shop while Starr went to auctions to buy merchandise. Eventually, Ryland also began going to the auctions and soon became a partner in the business.
"It's very addictive. Once you get started, you never want to stop," Ryland said. "I'm never tired when I'm in the shop."
Since the store moved to the larger location, revenue has increased about 30 percent each year and more than doubled from 1998 to 2000, they said. Last year was the first time the business posted a profit, and it was very small.
This year, if the owners hit their sales goal of $225,000, they'll see another small profit, they say.
One of Starr's and Ryland's short-term goals is to take international shopping trips for the store. That would suit some customers.
"I would love to see more imported pieces - maybe Italian or Spanish," said Antoinette Powell of Ellicott City. She recently discovered the store while she was looking for a floor lamp. Powell said that she is now a frequent visitor.
"When I'm down here, I pop in and see what's new," she said. "It looks like they're always changing and moving things around. That draws me back."
Carrie Kruger of Catonsville also said she would like to see more international pieces. But she said that will not determine whether she keeps shopping there.
"It's the only antique store I shop," she said. "I do walk all the other shops, but I always end up back there."