You know that shop at the corner of Ruby and Mission? The one with antique dressers on the sidewalk, along with the Statue of Liberty, a big green alligator, and 13-foot tall Grecian urns?
It gets a lot of attention from people stopped at the traffic light there.
They havent seen anything yet, says owner Mike Ferguson. This truly is just the beginning.
Youd never know it to look at the place, since the name is nowhere on the outside of the business, but that shop is called either Ruby Street Ruins or Ruby Street Antiques, depending on what part youre standing in.
Heres how it works: If youre wandering in the fenced area behind the house, among cast-iron angel statues that can only be moved with a forklift, row after row of elaborate iron fencing, and a riot of other oddities for your garden and the outside of your house, thats Ruby Street Ruins. If youre inside one of the twoyes, twohouses, filled to bursting with antique furniture, rugs, and light fixtures, youre in Ruby Street Antiques.
Advertising for the Ruby Street shops is simple, Ferguson says. He puts some of the inventory out alongside the bustling street, where a red light stops four lanes of traffic every few minutes, and people can do a little window shopping right from their cars. Much of the shops business comes from people who see something they like as they go past, he says.
With no other advertising, and after just 18 months in business at that busy corner, which has a daily traffic count of more than 28,000 cars, Ferguson says his shops have enjoyed sales of $40,000 a month this summer.
He estimates that an average of about 200 customers browse through the shops every day, and as many as 400 on a busy Saturday.
He says the Ruins has even sold some of those towering cast-iron urns, which he calls affordable decadence, affordable ridiculousness. The urns are priced at $5,900 and weigh more than two tons, he says. Delivery is included.
Ferguson, whos a registered nurse and works with psychiatric patients, has sold antiques as a sideline for about six years. He used to have a shop in Hillyard with a similar, if smaller-scale selection.
It was dead, he says, adding that the location just wasnt giving him enough exposure. How much can you spend on advertising to get people to come to your shop?
Now, looking at a six-foot-tall bird cage, antique roll-top desk, and, of course, the enormous urns lined up on the sidewalk, he says, This is the advertising.
It was while sitting in the traffic he now depends on for business that Ferguson got the inspiration for the Ruby Street shops. He saw a For Lease sign in the window, looked at all those cars backed up at a red light, and saw potential.
With my eye, I knew I could do something good with this corner, he says. He called the landlord and remembers saying, I have no money, but I really like your corner.
He moved the wares he had into the two houses, which have a combined total of about 7,000 square feet of space. Then, he says, he borrowed money from a relative and sold his house to build up his unique inventory. His goal was to have a display that was the most insane thing people have ever seen.
He seems to have met that goal. Some people tell him theres so much to look at that they just cant digest it.
Its a lot to take in. About half of whats on display was salvaged from buildings that had been torn down, which is why Ferguson chose the name Ruins.
As customers work their way along narrow, winding pathways through the Ruins, they spend a lot of time looking upat oversized planters, larger-than-life statues, huge Coca-Cola signs on the back of one of the houses, and a row of chairs hanging from the eaves of a two-car garage, which provides storage space.
A customer asking Ferguson about the price of a chair wants to know if the shop has any more like it. About 10, he tells her, and directs her to the garage, where the chairs are stacked up.
Ferguson says he buys much of his intentionally offbeat inventory on the East Coast. The supply of antiques is much larger, which means the prices are lower, he says. Unusual things are much easier to find, he says, plus he likes the age of the merchandise available there.
Our city is only 100 years old, he says, which means something from the 1950s could be considered old here. On the other side of the country, old is more likely to mean circa 1850, he says.
Even after figuring in the cost of traveling there and transporting merchandise thousands of miles back to Spokane, Ferguson says hes able to keep his prices low because he relies on volume rather than on making a hefty profit on every item.
If I can make 50 bucks on it, its out the door, he says. Prices at the shops range from about $15 up to nearly $6,000, he says.
To help customers make sense of it all, Ferguson or one of the shops other two employees try to greet everyone who comes in and tell them how the shops are laid out. Then, they step back and let people wander through on their own. Employees wear blue shirts with bright yellow letters reading, I work here, so theyre easy to spot if someone should need help.
Ferguson still works as a nurse at Eastern State Hospital, in Medical Lake, one day a week, and says that knowing he could go back to nursing full time has allowed him to take bigger risks with the business.
With the philosophy that bigger is better, Ferguson says drivers on Ruby are in for even grander displays in the months ahead.
Among other plans, he currently is trying to figure out how to transport several 15-foot-long concrete dinosaurs here from New Jersey.
In the future, Ferguson says hed like to set up franchises of the Ruby Street shops, complete with an online catalog where franchisees could order their inventory. He says, however, that construction of a Web site is on hold because he currently needs his Web designer to help move furniture and cast-iron garden fixtures.
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