Gas station to consignment shop: one woman’s journey

by Patrick Higgins

After 30 years of owning two gas stations, Anna Henn was weary. It was time for her to get out of the business.

She “was sitting at home [in Churchill] bored and wanted something to do,” her son Danny says.

So what does a 60-year-old woman do when she needs something to do? The question was easy for Henn: she opened a small business called Neighborhood Consignment. Her store is on Murray Avenue and houses a unique second-hand inventory.

The store is chock-full of items you could use to furnish an entire house, if you’re into eclectic interior design. Lamps, end tables and cookware line the walls. Need a pair of ceremonial fencing swords? Neighborhood Consignment’s the place to go. How about a 70-year-old hand-carved, gilded mirror with a slight crack in the floral outline, doubtless from summoning beauty-judging entities? The store has one of those, too.

“She had the background in retail and always liked going to flea markets and yard sales, and now the flea markets and yard sales come to her,” says Danny, who helps her four to five days a week with store upkeep, pricing and customer service.

Throughout the past year, Henn has seen her business take off. She estimates that 75 percent of her inventory passes through within 30 days, at which point she splits the profits 50-50 with consigners. With her six year-old chihuahua Scooter at her side, she’s created a friendly environment overflowing with antique china sets, furniture, children’s toys, and everything in between.





“I have people now that just stop in to come in and bullshit just for a couple minutes,” Henn says. “It’s nice when you’re a small business owner and people just come into say ‘hi,’ or to come in and see the dog.”

Those who have chosen to stop in during the winter months have caught a fleeting glimpse of a gently used Honda sport bike in mint condition. With a $3,000 price tag, she’s confident it’ll sell once the weather turns, but for now, it’s impounded behind a refurbished drum set and a slew of Christmas decorations. And then there’s Danny’s favorite: the hand-carved wooden sculpture of a Native American that splits and doubles as a chamber for your bottle of whiskey.

“We’ll take anything unique, odd or in, except clothes,” Danny says. “Other than that, the more unique it is, the better chance we have of selling it.”

Several months ago, a man came in with a comic book that Henn discovered was worth $1,000 – the quickest $500 a business owner will likely stumble upon. But the coolest thing Anna’s seen come through her shop, she recalls, was a silver music box that played 12 tracks and sold for $250 in two days to a man who “gave me his card and told me if I ever get anything really unique to call him first.”

In the eight months since she’s opened, Anna has been helping neighbors both empty and fill their houses. After just two weeks, Danny says the duo “had a steady clientele coming in,” and that “people knew we were here.” And it seems that the store’s patrons are just as diverse as its selection.

“It’s everybody,” Danny says. “It’s young, it’s old, white, black, Russian, it doesn’t matter. It’s a great mix of people coming in. I love it. I like hearing the different accents, talking to them and learning where they’re from.”

They’re mostly local, with the exception of the California woman who recently stumbled upon the storefront and couldn’t get enough in the week she was supposed to be visiting her son.

“She was in every day and she must’ve spent at least $100 every day. She packed everything up and took it back to California,” Anna says with a giggle. “It helped sales.”

The two said they looked at 10 to 15 locations before choosing the storefront in Squirrel Hill, and soon realized with the 110 apartments in the building above, their corner of Murray Avenue was prime real estate.

With the amount of foot traffic through the neighborhood, there’s nearly always a steady cycle of customers sifting through the collection of the neighborhood’s orphaned items.

Considering the sense of community upon which Squirrel Hill thrives, Henn believes she’s found a spot where she feels comfortable, and more importantly, where she can sustain a business.

“I kind of feel like this is where I belong now,” Anna says. “When I had my gas station out in Turtle Creek, I felt like I belonged there. But the business is what you make it. If you make it friendly and you want people to come in, and even it’s just to say hi. People like to be treated nice and it makes a big difference.”