824 Consignments home to unique treasures

Geri Roberts opened 824 Consignments in March of 2015.

Geri Roberts opened 824 Consignments in March of 2015. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

By: Rebekah Devorak

A shop born from hypothetical flames, 824 Consignments on Brookline Boulevard provides a shopping experience almost as worldly and cultured as its owner Geri Roberts.

“I live upstairs, and I was so disappointed when my landlady told me that the used furniture store [below] wasn’t going to renew their lease,” Geri says. “She said she had restaurants that were interested, and I’m a Scorpio. Scorpios are terrified of fire. I went to sleep thinking that I was going to perish in the middle of the night because of a kitchen fire. The next morning, my first thought was ‘I can open a consignment shop!’”

Blonde with a warm smile and even warmer personality — and no previous experience with consignments — Geri’s decision to open her shop was spontaneous yet completely determined.

“I just thought the community needed something like this,” she says. “Everyone needs to furnish their homes, right? It’s good to change things in your house, to shake up the energy.”

Looking around the shop, it’s difficult to believe that the former Virginia Tech graduate teaching assistant didn’t begin as a connoisseur of vintage knickknacks and little treasures. It’s even more difficult to believe that 824 Consignments has only been opened since March of 2015, as it’s packed full with goods from her 153 consignors, or suppliers.

On a crisp October afternoon, local art fills the walls, from interpretive female nudes to sweeping western landscapes, so much so that it’s difficult to discern the shop’s paint color. A golden brocade couch with quilted cushions and matching chairs sits at the front near the shop’s window, arranged like a parlor room from days gone by. Modern CDs – like ‘90s one-hit wonder Eagle Eye Cherry – coexist on a wooden bookcase with vintage Nancy Drew novels.

“It’s a mix of the old and the new,” Geri says. “I love it because it’s just like life: the mixing of the old with the new.”

Further into the store homemade candles, handmade jewelry, artisan birdhouses, decorated fine china, porcelain cherubs and even a poster of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s intertwine on tables. There must be a thousand items nestled into nooks and crannies, and every last one of them is tagged with a handwritten price.

“It’s a personal touch,” Geri says. “I always want to keep it personable. It lets customers know I care.”

That care charmingly masks any of the store’s quirks that Geri believes are less than perfect right now. Figuring out how to organize the store so it’s eclectic but not cluttered is a somewhat of a struggle.

“I don’t like mayhem, but somebody said this is the way consignment shops are supposed to look,” she says. “I guess it’s just my Type-A personality that wants everything in its place. But if things are like that, that means there’s no activity. Things aren’t coming in, things aren’t going out. I just have to embrace the chaos.”

To avoid stagnancy Geri makes mental notes of what sells, and more importantly, what does not. Forget about common clothes: Miniskirts and men’s clothing will sit untouched for months in the store’s open closet if accepted.

Plain household items don’t sell well either. A painting of the Last Supper collects dust along the frame where it has hung on the wall since day one, while casserole dishes underwhelm next to a shiny silver serving dish and a vase of colorful fake flowers.

That last item always disappoints Geri, though.

“It’s a pity that people don’t use good china every day,” she says. “It’s not like it’s expensive, so why not? It’s special!”

Geri gestures to an odd candle holder that resembles a miniature coat rack with ceramic pears dangling off the ends. “I just like things that are different. Like, where can you find something like that?”

The distinctive mix of items constantly lures customers off the Boulevard. Men and women poke their heads around the open door frame with slight uncertainty. But any skepticism of intense sales pitches or clingy associates dissolves when Geri greets them. It doesn’t matter who walks into the store; everyone is treated like family.

“Honey, you dropped something!” Geri says, picking up a Visa card that fell while an older woman named Deena was marveling at the local art. “You don’t want to lose that, my dear!”

Another man strolls in to tell Geri about a 100-year-old cedar chifferobe, a type of armoire, he just found. Geri recognizes him immediately and they chat like old friends; he helped a woman move a secretary desk the week before.

Later, she pauses to answer her cellphone. The caller ID reads ‘Tom the Customer,’ but the way she speaks sounds more like she’s conversing with a son.

“I’m doing great, thank you dear for asking. Oh what is the matter? Why, that’s terrible! Is the bank going to protect you? Okay, sweetheart, I hope it gets fixed. I appreciate it, my dear. Take care now, honey.” It turns out Tom the Customer had his wallet stolen and he wouldn’t be able to buy a vintage organ anymore.

“Geri is an honest person and she has a big heart,” Ashley LaRobert, Geri’s daughter-in-law, says. “She takes an old-school approach to buying and selling. My favorite thing about the shop is that I don’t have to look around for more than five minutes to find something that is special and beautiful, just like Ms. Roberts herself.”

Community lingers in the shop’s air and manifests itself further in the creative events that Geri hosts at the store. From horoscope lessons to gallery crawls, tarot card readings, meditation sessions and mixology classes, she uses events to build strong relationships with Brookline residents. Geri has even planned fashion shows and batik (fabric dyeing) classes. These events also give Geri extra opportunities to socialize.

“With my first event, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, the shop isn’t making any money off of this!’” Geri says. “But it was beautiful and everyone had a great time. It kind of acts as a community center in a way.”

Although running 824 Consignments by herself can sometimes prove difficult and time-consuming, Geri loves her new role in life.

“This shop is my life now. It’s my social life, it’s my work life. It’s good that my shop is doing so well, but I never imagined that it would take off like this. I love it. It’s fun and it’s fabulous.”