New Mexican Pickers
For Eric Mack and Gary Warren, proprietors of Mesilla's 5967 Traders, the antiques they acquire on trips through the area are proof that one man's junk is another's treasure.
by Karen Ray
"Back up and turn around!" "Wait!" "Stop!" is how the script reads on one of Eric Mack and Gary Warren's "picking" trips to resupply their shop, 5967 Traders, just off the Mesilla Plaza. The two friends share a love of classic cars and a common passion for preserving old, and sometimes odd, bits of Americana. Not just preserving it but repurposing it into decorative, functional items for home and yard, each with at least one story to tell.
Eric Mack in the workshop describing his plans
for this vintage lamp. (Photos by Karen Ray)
The long-time friends opened their business in November 2010. When asked how they came up with the name "5967 Traders," Eric laughs and says, "Well, that actually came about by taking Gary's birth year and my birth year and putting them together."
Not unlike the History Channel duo depicted on TV's "American Pickers," they have always liked to pick, roaming back roads, small towns and antiques warehouses for supplies and inspiration. They met at a classic car show in Ruidoso years ago and discovered they both had an interest in antiques as well. Soon after that they began exploring the possibilities of selling at weekend fairs and markets. At a monthly fair in Fredericksburg, Texas, they were encouraged by the positive response from fairgoers and other vendors.
Eric says they cut their teeth working with consignments, taking baby steps in the direction of a storefront. "We were doing road shows, hauling our products to different small town venues," Gary adds, "and it was kind of a crap shoot whether we could pay expenses or not."
One of the driving forces behind the 5967 storefront was a growing frustration with consignment options. This was a great motivator to open a store and carry their own merchandise. As the rigors of traveling started to get to them, they began thinking about setting up in one spot with a brick-and-mortar shop.
They finally found a small house just off the Mesilla Plaza. Thinking they would be unable to afford the rent, they contacted the owners, Paul and Bertha Gallegos, anyway. The Gallegos have strong generational ties to Mesilla and this was just the kind of business they were looking for to build the community. Paul grew up in the house when it had dirt floors and still comes in occasionally to talk with Gary and Eric. He also makes a guest appearance on the 5967 Traders website with a few of the metal sculptured farm animals that are sold in the shop.
Business has been quite good, with more than half the business coming from locals and the rest from regional visitors and tourists. They have a steady repeat clientele. Gary adds, "We're not afraid of competition; we have our own niche. We sell service with a smile."
Gary and Eric both participate in the day-to-day efforts of running 5967 Traders and try to stay flexible. Although they tend to handle different aspects of running the retail storefront, the business partners are able and willing to jump in and do whatever job is needed. Eric says they've been "pretty successful operating on the freewheeling model of business." Both men say the hardest part of the job is the down time. Eric is full of energy and happiest when working with his hands, visualizing and creating functional art. The friends still take custom orders and enjoy the challenge of creating a unique piece for a specific customer.
Granville Smith, their 93-year-old neighbor and close friend, often goes along on picking trips or keeps them company in the store. Gary says, "He's like a history book because his mind is still sharp. If we don't know what something is we ask him and he usually does." Granville's remarkable life experiences range from traveling through the Mesilla Valley by covered wagon as a kid to being held as a POW in Japan.
One of their favorite picking trips is actually an ongoing one. Eric's eyes light up as he describes a wonderful rambling warehouse they routinely canvas for inspiration and supplies. They make a trip to this pickers' Mecca every couple of months to resupply. He says that often as he walks down the long space he will see something that will be just right for completing a project in progress back home.
Gary Warren on a recent picking trip.
Although the two friends have favorite locations they visit for antiques and raw materials for their creations, their picking trips usually involve a large dose of serendipity. They enjoy driving back roads, keeping their eyes open for likely places. One or the other may see something that catches their attention or looks promising. Eric says sometimes it might be the line of an old car that prompts him to stop and knock on a door, asking to take a look. Other times it might be a vintage tractor or just the way yard detritus and possessions have collected that tips them off to a possible treasure hunt.
Respect and taking the time to listen to the stories people tell about their possessions are essential. Eric talks a lot about reading people. He says you have to know what is important to people. Why have they saved these items? Usually there is a story behind the piece, sometimes great emotional attachment or even just the desire to own something intriguing that other people will ask about.
There have been a few times when folks wouldn't answer their door or would yell through the door, "It's not for sale!" — sometimes before Eric could even ask. But he says most of the time people are happy that you're interested in the things they have saved, an inquiry often leading to, "Oh, if you're interested in this maybe you'd like to see…."
Eric describes himself as "a picture person and exceptionally good at visualizing." In brainstorming ideas for the art he creates, he says, "I usually start with one piece and build everything else around it. Every part is the key to the next one…. It is like working a puzzle as I look at all of the things I want to combine into one larger piece." He is a self-taught designer; creativity comes naturally to him. He credits his favorite uncle, Larry, with "steering all of that energy into focus," by buying him a table saw and mentoring him in its use.
Eric retired in May 2009 after serving 22 years in the Air Force. While stationed in Clovis a lady asked him to build her a birdhouse and he says it just took off from there. A friend of hers saw the artistic avian abode and also wanted one. Soon he was getting regular orders and checks as word spread. He has since branched out, designing and crafting many different types of creative projects, but he still regularly makes one-of-a-kind bird houses that are truly works of art.
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