Owensboro pickers seek out treasures

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Antique toys and cars collector Jerry Denton, left, talks with Ernie D’s employee Yvonne Hall while looking at an antique, remote-controlled car carrier in the business Friday afternoon.

Television shows like the History Channel's American Pickers and A&E's Storage Wars glorified the notion of "One man's trash is another man's treasure," through highly dramatized depictions of their lead characters finding the literal, "diamond in the rough."

In the shadow of Owenboro's big box retail stores are the everyday pickers, those not finding classic Indian motorcycles or Steve McQueen's Camaro, but making a living through finding value in the little things.

Jerry Denton, a native of Chicago who now calls Owensboro home, is an avid collector of toys. At least once a week, he makes his way to the city's various peddler's malls to see what catches his eye. For Denton, it isn't about finding that big ticket item, but regaining a piece of his childhood.

"When I was a kid," he said. "My dad sold all of our stuff and moved us to New Mexico, including my toys. I had the original Star Wars Toys and a ton of original Hot Wheels. Do you know what that would be worth now?"

Currently, he is putting the finishing touches on a 12 foot by 24 foot room that depicts the history of the world starting with the age of the din and culminating in the space-age. He has more than 10,000 pieces of his collection that populate his self-created world and he is always on the lookout for anything that catches his eye, he said.

While some collectors are into the collecting for reasons of nostalgia, there are those, like Sharon Reed, owner of Ernie D's Flea Market at the Wyndall's Center, that are the pickers. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Reed began her career as a garbage-picker 15 years ago, she said, allowing her to find things like gold and silver jewelry and antique furniture, launching her into the flea market game. She moved to Owensboro roughly 13 years ago.

"The trash pickings around this area aren't nearly as good as Dallas," she said. "But, the yard sales, auctions and estate sales usually have some pretty good stuff."

She has been in her brick and mortar location for four years. Her shop boasts everything from toys, petroliana (items related to the petroleum industry), antique furniture and even preserved animals in jars. Her stock is roughly 30% to 40% hers with the rest being filled by vendors and consigners, she said.

While there are pickers like Reed that have turned their picking into a business model, there are those pickers, like Debbie Basham, that have the love of buying and selling in their blood.

Basham currently rents out 10 booths at the Peddler's Mall, and has been a picker all of her life, she said.

“Anything that you could want,” she said, “we have at this mall. If I don't have it, someone is bound to. There isn’t anything you can’t find.”

Her collection, like many of her contemporaries, is eclectic, ranging from her self-made DIY projects, furniture, art, kitchenware and more. While she doesn't discriminate on the types of items she sells personally, she is an avid collector of anything related to eagles as well as taxidermy for her cabin, she said.

“Some people like certain things,” she said. “If I think I can make a dollar, I pick it up. My kids will find things and bring them to me as well as friends. The people you meet doing this are fabulous. They’ll come in and find something and say, ‘That is a little high, can you do this?’ and I will. The fun of buying and selling is the haggling. It has always been in my blood,” she said. “It is all about the love of buying and selling.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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