Sue Shelley is a lively lady who has an appreciation for the unusual. From her colorful cat eye glasses to her bejeweled shoes, it is easy to tell this stylish vendor is one of a kind. She has been in the 'Treasure Hunting' business for 35 years and boy does she have some stories! Over the years Sue has set up at Flea Markets in Tulsa and Dallas and participated in the NYC Pier Show. In the 80's and 90's she sold jewelry to Italian Designers, including Versace. She has even seen pieces she has curated end up on Hollywood's Red Carpet. Sue is a devoted Mother and a loyal friend. In fact, if you wrong someone she cares about we would like to discourage you from walking in front of her car. Sue has two spaces at River City, a booth on aisle 4 where you will find an eclectic mix of items and a shelf under the counter with vintage and unique jewelry. We only scratched the surface during our visit, just enough to know we need to spend more time with Sue.
Are you a native Tulsan?
I grew up and went to school in Collinsville, OK
How did you meet your husband?
We met at a New Year's Eve Party in 1976, it was the kind of party where glasses were stuck to the floors. Our good friends met at the same party. The four of us still celebrate together.
We have two children, Alex and Allison.
What kind of jobs did you have before you became a full time junker?
I have done lots of things. I had a commercial newspaper route, I delivered the Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News. I was a legal secretary and worked for the District Attorney. I waited 10 years to have my kids so I wanted a job that I could be at home with the kids.
When did you start junking?
When I was pregnant with Alex I started reading antique books. Then I began going to the Tulsa Flea Market to just look and learn, not to purchase. But in time, I went over to the 'Dark Side' and bought my first piece, a piano manufactured in 1860. I asked a man at a local piano store how much he would charge to move it one mile. He was not happy when he saw it was a 1500 pound Rosewood Baby Grand Piano. My husband wasn't too happy either. It was then he insisted that I focus on something much smaller, like jewelry.
Ultimately I started chasing jewelry and became a vendor. I sat up at the Tulsa Flea Market for 30 years and in Dallas for 10 years. I also did a few Estate Sales. The Estate Sale business is really hard work and requires such a quick turn around...it wasn't for me.
Not many women can say they were forced by their husband to buy jewelry. Do you have a large collection?
I have an old and strange collection...some of it is very old and some of it is very strange.
Do you have a favorite piece?
There is a French Nouveau Fairy Pendant that I love. I don't wear it much but I like to take it out and look at it from time to time.
Is there a piece that got away? An item you wish you had purchased, but didn't?
The one that comes to mind is a retro rose gold ruby and diamond piece, I should have traded my kids golf cart for it. I didn't and I still regret it.
Do you have a favorite “Find”?
Yes, I purchased a Russian broach and ring for myself as a Christmas present. I ended up selling them both within a month.
Where is the most unusual place you have found a treasure?
In Stillwater, Oklahoma. I just walked into a really small antique store in Stillwater and found amazing jewelry. You wouldn't believe the stuff this little old lady had.
Do you collect anything besides jewelry?
Art, but I got into art by accident. I went to the Estate Sale of the sister of Oklahoma Artist, Paul England. I spent $80 and walked away with a few original pieces that I turned for quite a profit. Once you start looking, you can't even believe the art that shows up in Tulsa. You can find some really killer stuff.
Your booth is colorful and fun, it is one the River City Staff keeps an eye on. Does it represent your style?
My home is not cluttered like my booth, but it is colorful. My whole family loves this freaky pink dog that was a Mayfest Original. That dog is the one piece I can't let go of. It is in the den, the furniture for that room was bought specially to match it. I collect the art of Tulsa Artists. My kitchen used to be Native American with baskets and art. In the foyer, I have a bronze art nouveau chandelier that throws flowers on the ceiling when lit. Because it is bronze and porcelain it is very heavy. I got it at the same place I got the baby grand piano (she adds with a mischievous grin).
Does your family enjoy the hunt and resale business?
My son, Alex, and I like the resale business. My husband and daughter don't, they must not be related to us (she adds with a twinkle).
If you could design your perfect day, what would it be?
I have already had it at a Florida Antique Mall. There was so much jewelry it took my 3 days to go through it all. I just sat on the floor holding all of these great pieces.
Another time I was at the Neiman Marcus in Dallas. It must have been a slow day, because Steven (yes she knew the salesman by his first name) brought out a cart of high dollar antique pieces. One was valued at $125,000. I didn't buy anything but I got to look through it for hours. I have touched some really great jewelry!!!
If you could spend the day with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Barbara Streisand, I hear she has some fantastic jewelry. I also hear she can be quite the...diva, but I'd really like to see her jewelry.
If you could be in any place in the world, where would you choose?
Jamaica, to me Negril is the Mother Ship. I have been to Paris, but I love Jamaica. We went there by sticking a pin on a map. It is so beautiful, I love it. Really, my obsession with Negril is just crazy.
What are 5 things you can't live without?
Diet Pepsi, my children, my dog Barbie, Antique Malls and my jewelry.
You have been a vendor at River City for 9 years, do you have any advice for new vendors?
Have unusual items in your booth. The shopper may not be interested in that particular item...but it will cause them to stop and look at what you have in your booth. Keep your booth really full...people love to dig.
If you are lucky, there will be three times in your career that you find a major sale or have an opportunity to purchase something special. Mine were in Stillwater, Florida and Mrs. Vandever's Estate Sale. You may have to beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. I have used my car payment to fund a jewelry purchase. If you need money, go see what you have in your garage. I had a garage sale one time and ended up selling my Corvette and my son's Mercedes.