There are 22 thrift shops between downtown Sarasota and Fort Myers, and Sam June haunts them all. June, visual curator at Norris Furniture & Interiors, is the ultimate treasure hunter, although he prefers to call it junking. His current passion is everything midcentury—modern, Palm Beach chic, Hollywood Regency.
“I’m always looking for something that speaks to me,” he says. And what does it say to him? “Take me home!” he replies.
June’s obsession with junking came from his mom. “My mother had a wonderful eye,” he says. “She’d spot signed Steuben glass or Haviland Limoges china for a quarter or 50 cents, run them through a dishwasher and sell them for $50.”
As a pre-teen in Orlando, June started out collecting Coca-Cola and Shirley Temple memorabilia and anything Art Deco. As decades passed and he broadened his reach, he opened a vintage shop at the Winter Park Antique Mall. He was even filmed in 2007 for a cable TV pilot, Junking with June. To this day, he reads voraciously and visits museums to train his eye.
June says his craze for thrift shops is timely. When we recently rendezvoused, he and his partner, Bill Griffin, were just back from the Atlanta home furnishings market, where he says the trend was “mixing antiques with your own home goods.”
He agreed to show our readers a few tricks of his trade at three favorite thrift shops. Armed with comfy shoes, bottled water and open minds, we set off.
Our first stop is the Woman’s Exchange at 539 S. Orange Ave. June praises the consignment shop, founded in 1962, for its ever-changing inventory of quality merchandise. (He’s in good company. Lara Spencer, Good Morning America co-anchor and host of HGTV’s Flea Market Flip, singled out the nonprofit thrift store—proceeds fund grants to arts organizations and scholarships for art students—as a “favorite haunt” in her book, I Brake for Garage Sales.)
June scans the aisles. He spots an ice bucket in a popular melted ice pattern for $4.63. Barware is having “a huge moment,” he says. Nearby, a 54-piece set of gold-plated flatware for $45 catches his eye. “Gold, not brass, is very popular in tabletops right now because it’s so different,” he explains. He lingers over a set of honey-gold Polynesian-themed plates (“so Palm Beach”), a classic ’60s orange melamine cream and sugar set ($7 for the pair) and a cylindrical glass juice pitcher with orange floral decals straight from the ’70s ($2.99). June suggests grouping such like items. “But you can’t just throw it together,” he cautions, “because then you look like a crazy granny.”
His eyes alight on a Plexiglass trash can and napkin holder (“Plexiglass is huge”); a rustic one-of-a-kind pottery vase straight out of 1970s Asheville (“very big right now”); and a diminutive, Italian-made figurine of Cyrano de Bergerac for $10.84 (“anything from Italy is highly collectible”).
But he passes on a set of fine china with a delicate gray geometric pattern from Germany, priced at $514. “I didn’t know we were in Neiman Marcus,” he says. Ditto a shelf of milk glass (“not so popular”) and a Lladro figurine (“ick”).
“The fun of coming here is you have to dig deep, deep, deep through the shelves for a treasure,” he no sooner says than he encounters four handsome geometric Mikasa bud vases designed in 1979 in Japan by Helena Uglow, $9.42 for the set. “On eBay, they cost $20 each,” he exclaims.
The Pines of Sarasota assisted living community has two Fabulous Finds thrift shops, one at the main campus at 1221 N. Orange Ave., and the other, “more curated, June says) a block south at 1038 N. Orange Ave. “When we started junking in Sarasota 25 years ago we started calling it the Eva Gabor thrift shop,” he says. “I found a sequined caftan there from the Eva Gabor Collection for Lillie Rubin for all of a dollar. I sold it to a dealer for 45 or 50 bucks.”
We aren’t so lucky this time (“It’s catch as catch can here,” he says) but we do spy a $40 fur coat that’s seen better days; a pair of never-worn J. Crew gold brocade pants with an original price tag of $248 on them, marked $35; and an $85 white leather chair with sling arms (“I love it; so late ’60s”).
At the more curated shop, June spies an antique Victorian vase made of opaline Bristol glass with hand-applied flowers priced at $20 (“$99 on eBay”); a chunky ivory cuff bracelet for $100 (“very Diana Vreeland”); and a black raffia make-up bag for $9 on which he pins a $25 Austrian crystal brooch to transform it into an evening bag. The saleswoman thanks him enthusiastically.
Then it’s off to the mother lode of all area Goodwill stores, the superstore on 17th Street and North Honore Avenue. “I once found some Kartell pieces [Italian acrylic furniture] there. I had a small seizure and brought them home,” June says. We first peruse the “Treasure Island,” glass cases filled with jewelry and other fine items (all clip-on earrings are $1.99; a mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell cigarette case is $7.99).
In the boutique section, you’ll find high-fashion names at higher prices, such as a Peck & Peck blazer made with Italian fabric for $9.99. But we go to the regular clothing racks, aisles upon aisles of them, all organized by color and size, where June pulls out a vintage hand-beaded silk jacket by Adrienna Papell and a gold-beaded black cocktail jacket by Nolan Miller Dynasty Collection that screams 1980s, each priced at $4.49. He says they’d be perfect paired with jeans on a fashionable young woman.
“You have to look past what is,” he advises.
A few of June's thrift-store treasures.
A Michael Graves telephone for Target: “Architect Michael Graves’ home collection for Target was a huge hit. Even though they were manufactured by the millions, many have not survived. This telephone is a piece of sculpture; it’s odd-looking, but that makes it unique. It was marked at $3; I got it for $1.50 when the thrift shop had a half-price sale.”
“Art Deco is making a big comeback. It mixes well with the new modern look in home décor. My chalkware figurine reflects the pure feel of Art Deco—a stylish lady walking her pair of afghan hounds. 50 cents at a tag sale.”
“Papier-maché was huge in the ’60s, but not many great examples have survived. De Selva, a Mexican company, produced beautiful objects for the home. My lion is painted in bright colors, reflecting the psychedelic influence of the era. $7.50—more than I normally pay for anything, but this is a killer piece.”