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Q&A: Bull City Vintage founder Alison Matney talks finding unique pieces and growing up in Durham

Rooted in curating special and interesting pieces, Bull City Vintage is a local company that started in October 2020. Their unique pieces have captured the attention of the Durham community and they currently amass over 9000 followers on their Instagram page.

The Chronicle sat down with founder Alison Matney to talk about their passion for curation, love for Durham and their upcoming tag sale. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle:  What was it that compelled you to start working in a curatorial space?

Alison Matney: It’s kinda funny, I worked in corporate… for 20 years. When I was young, growing up, I suppressed any creativity I had. My parents were great but they weren’t necessarily in the arts field; they were very much about get your weekly paycheck, get your benefits. That’s how you live your life … I hated corporate America. Just sitting in a cubicle, not knowing if the sun was shining or if it was raining. The only fun thing I did everyday was color-coordinating spreadsheets. [At the start of the pandemic,] I wanted to work from home, and [the company] said “that does not work for us.” They offered me a month’s severance and said, “If you want to leave, you can.” It was a really odd offer but I appreciated it. For the first time in my life, I made a really bold move — I walked away from security. I started working in staging and redesigning and I loved it, I learnt a lot. [I] spent the entire summer figuring it out. I realized I have always wanted to be an interior designer. I asked myself, “Why am I so scared?” So I made an Instagram account, went to an estate sale and bought a dresser for 50 bucks. I can clean it up and flip it — it’ll make someone really happy and I’ll make a profit too. I don’t want to sell to people for a lot of money, I want to sell to people like me who can’t afford really expensive pieces but still love them.

TC: All of your pieces are so unique. Where do you usually find them?

AM: Estate sales! I try to find the weirdest things… I love old portraits. I really appreciate antiques now. I have learnt so much from [running Bull City Vintage] and I am doing something I love and I never thought that would happen. I am not saying it is all great. I have to hustle, but I love the hustle. I love going and digging and finding things, even if it is online. [I love] being able to find something I have never seen anyone else sell or just something I like. I don’t try to stick to a certain way.

TC: What is it that you look for in the pieces you curate? Is there a specific theme or aesthetic?

AM:  I always want to buy things that are in good shape. If something isn’t, it is practically a giveaway. I’ve been doing this for two years so I know what people like. Sometimes I do buy pieces that I wouldn’t necessarily have in my house but I know there’s a huge market for it. But most of the time it’s just “Oh cool, I’ve never seen this before.”I just try to find unique pieces that I don’t see everyday, but I obviously hope can sell... 

TC: Your business finds its namesake in Durham. What is it about this city that makes it so integral to your business?

AM: I think you have to be born here to understand it. It’s almost like “We made it!” Durham was always looked down upon, especially by Raleigh. It’s a small town obviously … People tend to move away. Most of the people who live here aren’t from here. Especially with Duke, the majority of the people who live in Durham aren’t from Durham. So for people who are from here, it is almost like a pride thing over time. Although I am not crazy about gentrification, people have begun to love it… When I was starting off, it was like — of course, Bull City. People will remember it! It’s just [showing] pride in my hometown.

TC: What is your favorite part of running Bull City Vintage?

AM: The clients, truthfully. I’ve had clients from day one who still come and buy from me. I feel so grateful and honored. I wouldn’t be doing what I love without them.  [I’m] buying all these pieces because [I] love them. [When] posting them, [I’m] like, “Is anyone else going to like them?” It always feels good when people are like “Oh my gosh, I love that!” My followers too, I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They keep me making bold moves.

TC: What does your vision look like in the long run for Bull City Vintage?

AM: I really hope to be able to get a space. I had space for a brief time last year. It was nice to have people look at the inventory and create a more in-person relationship with my clients rather than over the internet. Maybe one day I will start an auction house — I don’t know of an auction house in Durham. But really I just want a store, a place I can make my own. I hope to keep doing what I love, and to keep loving it.

TC: Do you have any advice for someone who is also looking to start a business?

AM: Research, research, research! Even if you think you’re going to be super small and you’re not going to need all that, just starting out organized, [because] making a plan is really important. I didn’t start out that way, I just jumped in, not thinking it was going to become anything. And also not listening to other people! So many people told me to do different things and I just went with my gut and I am really glad I did. So many people said you should only do one thing and I just said, “Why? Why do I need to pick a lane? Why can’t I have all the lanes?”

TC: Is there anything else about the company or about your story that you would like to mention?

AM: I’m going to have a tag sale Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I have tons of inventory. Everything will be … priced low. It will be like going to an estate sale. There won’t be any auctioning, but there will be fantastic deals.And also, I will say, for me, integrity is everything. If I have a client that is not happy, I hope that they can have a good experience. I had a recent experience where a client said, “I feel more compelled to buy from you now than I did when I bought the piece, because of how you handled it.” I am not going to be like “Oh sorry, you bought it, it’s final.”  I mean, this is my community. I don’t ship anything. Everything stays [local]. I have customers from out of state whose family buys from me and ships it to them. I just worry about things breaking, plus I have enough people in the area to sell to. I want to keep things small, and grassroot-low. Really everything for me is to make sure my clients are happy, and I will go above and beyond for that.

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