DADE CITY — Judy Christian doesn't quite fit the image of someone who rummages through heaps of trash or condemned homes. But the petite mother of five gets excited when she has the opportunity to sift through unwanted or long-forgotten items.
"I've been called a scavenger," Christian, 56, says with a laugh. "But I consider myself more of a treasure hunter."
Most people would tend to agree with Christian, as she always has been able to find people willing to buy her items. So when Christian told her husband, Chris, about her plans to open a business, he was behind her immediately. And he helps out when he can. She also gets help from her youngest children, twins Danielle and Christopher, who are 16.
When the Shabby Hen's Nest first opened a year ago, customers flooded in and nearly bought everything in the shop in just one weekend. Since then, patronage has been steady, with some faithful customers stopping in several times a week. The store sells unique home decor, including many handmade and re-purposed items, custom furniture, antiques, primitives, heirloom clothing, crafts, and other gifts and decor. Styles include shabby chic, country and rustic.
Christian said the success is not hers alone. Along with her family, she has had help from several women. Artist Yvonne Holste creates custom furniture. Joann Cabeza stages the store. Janiceann Corrigan sells crafts and helps out at the store. Pat Whitmore and Terri Hollis make primitive dolls and other items. Dawn Mau makes and sells heirloom clothing. Diane Dear paints items "shabby chic," and Gloria Keith sells crafts.
"We're like a little family here," Christian said. "We have fun."
"So many people tell us this is their favorite store in town," Corrigan said. "There is a lot of turnover. Things don't stay here very long."
Opening the store has allowed Christian to continue her passion for finding treasures. She loves to go to old houses and take old wood to paint and re-purpose. Some of the homes she has visited had furnishings and items from an era long ago — items like old beds, dry sinks and chimney caps. Christian isn't afraid to roll up her sleeves and climb through mounds of "stuff" to find her treasures, though she admits that if she ever sees a rat, she probably will kill herself running out.
One of Christian's favorite treasures was found the day a friend called to tell her about two abandoned homes downtown, vacant since 1980, that were about to be demolished.
"There was this old porcelain sink attached to the wall," she recalled. "But there was no time and no possible way I could get it off. ... As I was walking away, the (demolition) claw pulled away the wall, and that little porcelain sink just rolled to my feet."
The sink now resides in a garden at Christian's home, re-purposed as a planter.
"The treasure hunt, that's the fun part," Christian said. "I love old houses. It's a passion of mine to just go in and imagine the history — seeing homes from the 1920s and '30s and seeing how they lived. It can be creepy, but fascinating."
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Diane Dear paints items "shabby chic," and Gloria Keith sells crafts at the Shabby Hen's Nest in Dade City. A story in the Pasco Times on Sept. 23 incorrectly listed what the two women sell at the shop.