Two Crows – A Local Primitive Count Market

A mysterious cat is sitting on a shelf in Ranson, West Virginia.

You’ll find the shelf on which it sits tucked against a wall, just past the rooms filled with farm implements and Christmas ornaments and cast iron of every size and description and around the corner from the unnaturally heavy barge dock hammer.

The cat itself is jet black and about the length of your forearm. It is very dense. It’s sleek. It’s a lion or maybe a panther. It’s stylized, artistic and well-crafted. But no one is quite sure what it’s made from or who made it. It may be made of stone. It may be made of an unknown composite material from a forgotten civilization. The dealer found it an estate sale, an ephemeral event providing few answers. There are no marks on the cat. It could be 100 years old. It could have been made last year.

And it could be yours for $6.95 – or less, depending on your negotiation skills. But more likely than not, the cat is gone by now because it has been purchased by one of the many loyal customers of Two Crows Antique Mall located at 1212 N. Mildred St. in Ranson.

Cheryl Burns co-owns Two Crows with her husband Ed. Burns chose the distinctive name in memory of her mother’s habit of feeding crows at her family’s farm.

Her mother would give the crows the scraps that the farm animals wouldn’t eat. “It got to the point where the crows were so used to being fed, that they would wait and call for my mom and even eat out of her hand,” Burns said.

Burns credits her father, an amateur antique dealer, with sparking her own interest in antiques. She has now been in the business for over 30 years, specializing in what is known as “Country Primitive” items, such as antique scales, biscuit boxes, farm implements and decoration. She also sells jellies and preserves under her own “Two Crows Primitive County Market” label.

Burns previously operated as a dealer from a flea market in nearby Halltown, West Virginia. Looking to expand her operations, she found the site in Ranson which was formerly a medical building and, before that, a fire extinguisher manufacturing site. (Not surprisingly, you can buy antique fire extinguishers at Two Crows.)

Burns had longstanding friendships with other dealers at the Halltown flea market, and when they found out that she was moving, many of them wanted to move with her. And they did. Two Crows currently features 54 dealers, with many more on a waiting list. In fact, some of the dealers were so eager to set up shop in the new space that they helped Burns build a warehouse enclosure in the back of the existing building to accommodate more vendor space.

One of those dealers, Dave Chicchirichi, Jr., personally helped construct the new space. He also drove the massive trucks that helped move the dealers and their merchandise to the new facility. Being an antique dealer is not an easy job. “This job involves so many hours of work that you’ve got to love what you do,” Chicchirichi said. Nor is it cheap to operate an antique mall. Burns noted that the costs of heating and cooling the enormous space can be prohibitive, and insurance costs are always significant.

Burns estimates that the profit margin for most dealers is between 9%-25%, much less than it used to be even a few years ago.

Burns and Chicchirichi explained the behind-the-scenes process that most antique shoppers don’t see. Dealers spend a great deal of time at auctions, competing with each other and with members of the public. Buying at the right time is crucial. Dealers have to plan their purchases several seasons in advance to find a good deal. During the winter months, they try to obtain items that they can sell the following spring. For Christmas items, purchasing starts in June.

But even when they find a good deal, there is still work to do. A dealer may have to clean or restore the item – often a very laborious job. Sometimes, items are completely repurposed. For example, Burns’s hard work turned an antique butter churn into a decorative planter. Then there is the matter of setting up and organizing their displays, keeping things clean and tidy, and constantly rotating in new items. “I try to display items in a way to help customers see how it might appear in their own homes,” Burns said.

Burns rents space to her dealers by the square foot. Since many dealers have full time jobs and can’t be onsite to sell their own products, Burns handles the sales and transactions for them, taking a modest commission for each sale. Some dealers authorize her to negotiate with customers, while other dealers set their price and won’t budge.

Mark Gruner, Burns’s right hand man, helps her with the day to day operations and stays on top of the technology side of the business, such as answering e-mails and updating the business’s Facebook page.

Two Crows has everything that you might expect in an antique mall—old toys, books, furniture, military memorabilia, glass, ceramic and all the other countless knick-knacks that make shopping for antiques an adventure. Different dealers on site have different specialties. For example, Chicchirichi focuses on cast iron. His collection includes a cast iron cauldron made between 1750 and 1780. He knows that it is from that era because of the sprue mark (a sprue mark indicates where the metal was poured into the mold for casting).

Two Crows operates from 13,000 square feet building, and the location has room for further expansion, an option that Burns is actively considering. Business has exceeded Burns’s expectations. Her customers followed her from her old location, and regulars from as far away as Richmond, Virginia, closely follow her Facebook updates which include photographs of her always rotating inventory.

Two Crows Antique Mall is open 10am-6pm Monday, Thursday and Friday, and 9am-6pm Saturday and Sunday. It is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You can visit Two Crows Antique Mall on Facebook.

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