Morning sunlight warms the old brick warehouse as nearby factories rattle. At 8:45 a.m. on the first Friday of October, nearly 100 people line up outside this five-story building at the foot of Kansas City's 12th Street Bridge.
Many in the crowd presumably saw the resale shop's Facebook page, which provided a preview of the merchandise. In the former Columbia Burlap & Bag Co. Building, old items with new energy await: stately chairs reupholstered with whimsical wiener-dog designs, a door turned into a bright-red chalkboard, decades-old glass Crisco jars filled with colorful Christmas ornaments.
Ropes and hand-scrawled signs in parking lots warn the bargain hunters: You will be towed.
The vintage-seeking customers mix with those reporting for industrial jobs as well as other players in the West Bottoms' revitalization: artists, those running haunted houses, employees at up-and-coming restaurants and retail businesses. Fliers on light poles and wooden yard signs tout other resale shops that have sprouted nearby, ready to capitalize on the traffic. The people behind one of them promote themselves this morning by handing out yellow sticky notes penned with black ink. A food truck and a coffee shop on the block have been busy for at least an hour.
With eight minutes to go before the store opens, Trish Moore, the woman responsible for this repurposing revolution, peeks out the green front door at 1412 West 12th Street. She thanks those at the front of the line and tells them her news: In February, she plans to move Good Ju Ju across the street to the old John Deere warehouse. With more vendor space and 200 parking spots, the new location should better meet customer demand.
She closes the door and rounds up about 20 vendors. They form a circle inside, toward the front of the brick-and-concrete retail space, and join hands.
Two minutes to go. Close to 175 people are in line.
"Oh, my gosh, you guys," Moore says, her voice cracking with emotion. "I'm not going to cry."
The day marks the store's fourth anniversary. Memories flood Moore's mind — the sparse customer base in the beginning, the days when the store doubled as her home, the stress and success that have whittled her down five dress sizes.
"If anybody had told me the truth four years ago," she begins — her voice trails off as she squeezes the hands of the vendors beside her. "Thank you, Father, Jesus, Big Guy, Dude. Know how grateful we are."
"Music!" Moore says. She moves to start the morning's soundtrack, cuing up "Truckin'" by the Grateful Dead.
This is no antique mall. You won't see an estate-sale-ready old dark-wood buffet in Good Ju Ju. Instead: a buffet that very well could have been rescued from an estate sale now sports a smart coat of blue paint and intentionally weathered edges. All of it is the result of artists getting their hands on antiques, Dumpster castoffs and other finds, working on them and then selling their pieces at affordable prices. The vendors in this anti-flea-market effort work in open areas — no booths — and the spaces flow together with a hip interior designer's touch.
"We have no agenda except cool, pretty things," Moore says. "And we want to keep good stuff out of the landfill."
For at least one loyal woman, all the cool, pretty home décor provokes something more intense than mere warm fuzzies. "It's like a big visual orgasm in here," she tells more than one vendor.
Reaching one ecstatic customer at a time, Moore's Good Ju Ju has transformed the city's stockyards into its antique yards.
Are you out of your damn mind?"
Moore heard that question multiple times when she decided to open a business in the West Bottoms in 2007. The Johnson County native herself was skeptical of the area at first.
"I thought there was nothing but hobos down here with cans of beans," she says.
The streets had become safer in recent years, though, thanks to those already part of the West Bottoms resurgence. And the big brick, abandoned warehouses were full of second-life potential — the kind of potential that Moore has successfully spotted since childhood.
"I have been a trash picker my whole life," she says.
She remembers the first time her mother, Jane Snell, hit the brakes on the family pickup truck and called, "Patricia, jump out! Get your hands on that bed!" Moore opened the passenger door and walked — she should have run — to the brass bed on the residential curb.
"Another guy pulled up when we did, and he got it," she says.
Moore learned her lesson: When you see something good, you snatch it.
Her parents grew up during the Depression, and they passed their intolerance for waste on to their daughter. Snell had a good eye for treasures in trash, and Moore has clearly inherited the skill. But if she's glad to benefit from what people have tossed, she's sometimes bothered by the purging.
"I was always completely scandalized with the stuff people threw away," she says. Case in point: A man was selling a corn sheller at a garage sale. "He said he was going to throw it away. I said, 'Don't you dare,' " Moore recalls. She bought the rusty, 15-pound machine for $40, took it to a welder and turned the gear and the pulley and other individual parts into tabletop and wall décor.
"You have to kiss a lot of toads," she says of the trash chase. "But finding the one-of-a-kind prince charming is always worth it. I've never wanted to have stuff that looked like what everyone else had. I'm into fun, funky items."
Not that Moore is immune to the allure of brand-new goods. She once bought what she describes as a "really trendy and expensive" couch from a department store. "It just fell apart," she says. "That is when I decided I'd rather buy something old, made of better quality, and spend money to reupholster it."
That was 20 years ago.
In those early homemaking days — filled with PTA meetings and other kid-raising activities — her hobby had a simple mission: "I just wanted to make my house pretty."
Since then, she says, she has bought just four other new pieces of furniture. Meanwhile, old items kept calling. She says the sight of something that she might repurpose could make her mouth water. Sometimes she thought it, and sometimes she said it aloud: "That has good juju."
Six years ago, Moore took the first step toward turning her passion into a business. She became a vendor at Urban Mining, a resale store in midtown. There, she found fans of her self-described masculine style. For instance, her version of a coffee table is a trunk mounted on a metal mechanic's creeper — rust still intact. She started to build up a network of like-minded people, those who also memorized the trash-collection days in each part of the metro. And she knew that there were more like them, people who would drive anywhere to find a deal.
"If you see an item you love, buy it," Moore says. "Don't second-guess yourself. Everything will go together if they are things you love. You don't even have to look for items to love. They have a way of finding you."
She liked the large spaces and cheap rent in the West Bottoms, one of Kansas City's oldest areas. She signed the lease. With 8,000 square feet and more than 100 parking spots, the Columbia Building was more than enough — or so she thought at the time. With a divorce looming and her PTA days behind her, she moved in, along with her resale items — and her bed.
Her reasonable rent allowed her to charge reasonable vendor rates, resulting in reasonable price tags. But she has never been afraid to impose rules. No buckets of silverware. No Beanie Babies. No stapled wood. If something reeked of garage sale, collectibles or chain store, she vetoed it. And she has always believed in the golden business rule: "The customer is always, always right," she says.
Playing off the popularity of First Fridays in the Crossroads, she booked music for opening nights — and restricted her store's hours to the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the month. The limited hours gave Good Ju Ju an urgency: Get there or miss out.
Her vision and the place's positive atmosphere have allowed Good Ju Ju to find strong vendors and loyal customers.
Pam Renner was a customer four years ago. Her children were grown, and she was looking for the next step in life. That turned out to be Moore and her 1870s warehouse.
"I want to help," Renner said to Moore one night in the spring of 2008. Moore was reupholstering a cabinet. "I want to be a Ju Ju bee."
Today, Renner has a space in Good Ju Ju that showcases jewelry made from old keys and other formerly trashbound items that have gotten her reupholstering and typography treatment. A vintage suitcase, for example, now wears the lyrics to "Kansas City."
Recalling her transition from customer to vendor, Renner says, "The energy here was like an invitation to me." She turns to Moore and adds, "And it's because of you. You have an invitational soul."
Moore answers her: "You are fearless. You aren't afraid to try new things — anything — with what you make and sell."
Renner's vendor status is the envy of many. Currently, those who meet Moore's standards wait an average of eight months for an opening at the store.
Sisters Donna Erwin and Brenda Kennedy arrive at the October opening of Good Ju Ju at 7:45 a.m., securing the first and second spots in line. Erwin, from Overland Park, and Kennedy, from Lee's Summit, have brought a list of requests from family members who can't get enough of the trash-to-treasure items.
The sisters discovered the store three years ago "before everyone found out about it," Erwin says as the store opens and fellow shoppers swarm around her.
The prices were lower back then, too, she adds.
"But everything is still a great deal," Kennedy says, holding up a $17.50 price tag on a freshly glazed mixing bowl. "This would be way more somewhere else. And the quality wouldn't be as good."
A few steps away, a who-claimed-it-first conflict escalates over a vintage couch with a new, robin's-egg-blue cover.
"Why are you attacking me?" one of the combatants yells.
Moore steps in. Her voice is calm. This isn't the first argument she's had to mediate.
Those who find that dream sofa an instant too late shouldn't waste time arguing — the bargains at nearby markets won't wait. By this fall, at least six similar stores had opened in the area, all of them following Moore's seemingly foolproof business model.
The first was Bottoms Up Antique Market two years ago. Owner Gwen McClure laughs as she recalls accidentally stumbling upon retail success. She was using warehouse space in the West Bottoms to refinish and restore furniture, which she sold elsewhere. Then her landlord upped the rent.
"We thought: Well, what if we have a flea market once a month?" she says. So she and a dozen other antique dealers put prices on some items and opened the doors the first weekend of the month, to coincide with Good Ju Ju's hours.
"A lot of people showed up," she says.
By the next month, she had a waiting list of dealers. Eventually, she moved to a larger space in the old Stowe Hardware Building at 13th Street and Hickory. First, her business occupied the ground floor. Now it takes up the second floor, too.
McClure has met dealers and customers from neighboring states. "This area has become a day-trip destination," she says.
This past March, Patricia Allen opened Bella Patina one block east of Good Ju Ju. The space was previously occupied by a computer company. She was another Good Ju Ju regular who was moved to act. "We would have so much fun down here," she says. "It was like an event, a festival. And we thought: Why not another one? So we took the next step."
Foot traffic has only increased, she adds. And the shoppers buy so much that one of Allen's main concerns has been making sure that she and her vendors have enough items to last three days.
The stores aren't really competitors, she says. Their differences complement one another, making the area even more popular. For instance, while Good Ju Ju is known for creative repurposing, Bella Patina has a shabby chic style and Bottoms Up offers more true antiques.
The businesses in more jeopardy, some here believe, are those elsewhere in the metro. The resale bargains in the West Bottoms can be a refreshing break from shops full of high-end antiques. The buzz here is that this is the new antique row — a title traditionally held by the shops near State Line Road and 45th Street. "I absolutely believe that this is going to be known as the area for antiques," Allen says.
The excitement is lost on some. Good Ju Ju has given Restaurant Depot some headaches.
Three years ago, the restaurant-supply store became Good Ju Ju's neighbor directly to the west. As Moore's business became more popular, bargain hunters' vehicles overflowed into Restaurant Depot's parking lot. At first, that wasn't too much of a problem — the number of spaces in the lot outnumbered the wholesaler's customers.
About a year ago, though, the balance shifted. Good Ju Ju's vendors and customers — and the vendors and customers who have followed in its footsteps — showed up in epic numbers at a time when the restaurant-supply store's customer base also increased. Restaurant Depot manager Todd Osgood put out "Restaurant Depot parking only" signs. The resale customers' cars continued to invade. So Osgood took the next step: towing cars.
Nothing kills a great vintage-furniture find like discovering that you can't get it or yourself home.
Osgood and Moore are now working together to remedy the problem. Moore warns customers online that Osgood isn't kidding about his tow threat. She also posts large signs throughout her store.
Although Osgood has been frustrated at times with Moore's customers, he has nothing but praise for Good Ju Ju's founder. "It is hard to control adult behavior," he says. "People are going to park where they want to park, no matter how many times you tell them not to park somewhere. Trish has worked very hard to keep her customers out of my lot. She has done more than her part to be a good neighbor."
She has transformed the neighborhood, Osgood adds. Three years ago, he didn't feel safe in the area at night. As more people who are associated with Good Ju Ju and the other resale stores have come to the area, he has noticed less and less trouble. "Now I do feel safe down there at night," he says. "And Trish — and everything she's brought to the area — has played a big role in that."
Moore reached her own turning point about a year ago, when her business began to show a profit. She no longer needed to live at the store. She could afford both a business and a home.
She and the other vendors were preparing for a sale over the summer when it dawned on them that they had a hit on their hands. Keeping stock up, refereeing customer spats, dealing with impatience related to parking and crowds and lines — these tough pressures spelled success. Good Ju Ju's move across the street answers that popularity by way of increased retail space and more parking.
Still, if the store continues to shatter expectations, that relief could be temporary. The new place won't address every concern. Customers increasingly ask to purchase items online or ahead of the store's monthly opening — something that Moore strongly opposes. And with nearby resale stores multiplying, vendors are struggling to keep tabs on all of them, to know which to recommend to longtime clients.
"If you think about it, this is all very flattering," Moore says. "We work at a store that 200 people line up to see. What a privilege to be part of something that's a phenomenon."
In the crowd that Friday morning in October is the person who led Moore down her creative repurposing path: her mom. It's Snell's first time standing in Good Ju Ju's line — she usually arrives after the doors open.
"I wish I would have showed up earlier," she says, a bit disappointed with her distant place in the pack. She's proud, of course, but she isn't here to support her daughter.
"I am here as a customer," she says, and she heads inside the resale wonderland.