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Rearranging 'Stuff'

New owner puts own imprint on consignment shop.

"It's just an exciting adventure," said Ellen Sanders about her recent purchase of the Vienna antique and consignment store Stuff. Known for its green and white awning, the store — located on Maple Avenue across from the Patrick Henry Library — was in the hands of Blayne Stewart since its inception in 1996. Stewart's growing interior decorating and estate sales businesses were growing and making the shop difficult to run; she decided to sell.

Sanders, a Vienna/Oakton resident since 1980, had been a frequent patron of the store since its opening and had always dreamed of owning her own business. When she walked in one day, Stewart told her about her decision to sell. Throughout the next several days she called all her friends for counsel, including her sister, a business owner herself, and the idea of buying Stuff took on a life of its own. Along the way she said she was thinking "You have to be out of your mind" yet the message coming back to her seemed to be "If you want this, go for it" and she did.

AFTER THE DUST had settled on the red tape required to buy the business, a process that Sanders described as very stressful, Stuff found itself with a new owner, still pinching herself to believe that it was real.

Three months after she acquired the store in April, Sanders is still pinching herself. Joining her in this new venture are Marshall Rountree of M. Rountree Antique and Estate Jewelry and Sharon Hayden of Fabulous Finds. The two vendors joined forces with Sanders to change the character of the store as she puts her own stamp on the business.

Central to this, and one of Sanders' biggest struggles, is choosing what items to accept. At the beginning, the worry was whether or not they would have anything to sell, but the reality has been far from it. The result is an eclectic collection of antique and vintage items generally ranging from, but not restricted to, the '20s-'70s eras. Normal opening hours, from Tuesdays through Sundays, are another major change — a change Rountree says some customers are still getting used to. Stuff has also ventured onto the Web with www.stuff-etcetera.com.

At the center of the operation is Sanders who is, as Rountree said, "Certainly an upbeat person, she's learning, and always up to suggestions." This openness to suggestions and others' opinions impressed Rountree as Sanders doesn't just listen to others' thoughts, but seeks them out. Sanders' long-time friend Joyce Almquist adds "She's a real solid person" with a terrific sense of humor and still very responsible. Sanders is "more gutsy than I ever thought she was," Almquist said.

Sanders credits much of her success to Rountree, Hayden, and Almquist. The four spread out the store hours between them as they also balance Stuff with other full-time jobs, a process Almquist describes as "hectic at times". Sanders works as a librarian at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Despite the various inherent frustrations in business ownership and having to adjust her family to her newly busy schedule, Sanders is ecstatic. Owning Stuff has been the fulfillment of a long-time dream and she looks forward eagerly to what else this adventure can bring, she said.