This morning I thought I'd Share a recent feature from Spokane Coeur d'Alene Woman magazine. Special thanks to the magazine and writer Judith Spitzer for their support by writing about women such as myself in small business.
Farm Chick Serena Thompson
It is 8:15 a.m. on day one of the Farm Chicks Antique Show and founder Serena Thompson props open a door to the entrance of the main County Fairgrounds Building in Spokane. Early admission ticket holders, mainly women, are waiting in lines, rain pouring down hard on this Saturday in early June. They don’t seem much bothered as they crowd in close together, three or four to an umbrella.
Clutching a cell phone and pen in one hand, Serena reaches down to push a wooden door jam under the door with the other hand, and pushes it into place with her foot. Dressed simply in a striped orange and white t-shirt, jeans and flats matching the bright tangerine in her shirt, she looks as calm as the proverbial cucumber. She is a little tiny thing, barely five feet tall, slender, with long, dark thick hair, parted on the side. She keeps tucking the hair on the right behind her ear to keep it all tidy and in place.
Minutes later 300 women stream through the doors. Some are soggier than others, shaking rain off umbrellas and jackets, most are smiling and carry at least one big bag. Excited and boisterous, these women are not quiet. The noise level in the entrance immediately goes up from about 30dB to over 85dB, roughly the same as a jackhammer at 50 ft.
They are here at this show because they are card-carrying members of a club that loves vintage, retro, recycle, re-imagined, reused, repurposed, handmade, shabby chic and junking. They also unabashedly love the Farm Chicks. It’s not just an antique show, it’s a happening, a gathering, a place to nurture themselves, other women and antiques used by other women (and men) back in the day.
Those who know Serena, and some who don’t, stop to get a “hi how are you” or a hug as she helps hand out flyers and quells any last minute conundrums via cell phone. The heavy lifting has been done over the past few days, but mostly over the past year since the last Farm Chicks Antique Show. This year officially marks the 10th anniversary of the much-beloved event.
While preparations for a show as big as Farm Chicks might sound like a crushing undertaking to the average entrepreneur, Serena says the show feels huge but not overwhelming. She works on the show every day from what she refers to as World Headquarters. “For the past two years we’ve been growing the business,” she says. “It was a challenge adding a new bay last year but now it’s really a well-oiled machine.”
The day of the show starts when she arrives about 6:30 or 7 a.m. “I just kind of get everything rolling for the day,” she adds. Two days earlier she and her crew, which includes oldest son Cody, 21, are at the fairgrounds working on displays, marking the floor for vendors and getting “the big pieces in place.”
“On Friday all of my vendors come in and set up; it’s fun,” she says with a smile. “It’s like a family reunion.”
Vendors come from Utah, Montana, Idaho, across the state and even as far away as Minnesota and Canada.
By Saturday morning, the day of the show, she says, “it’s quite calm and peaceful, all the work being done already.”
Serena calls herself a full-time mom but that’s kind of an understatement. She and her husband Colin have four boys ages 12, 13, 14 and 21. Which means when she started the sale over 10 years ago the boys were 2, 3, 4 and 11. “It was hard in the beginning,” she says. “We took the kids everywhere with us and at the show we would try to find ways to keep them involved. You always make do.”
Making do is something she knows only too well. She, her sister and brother were raised in the late 60s and early 70s by two “hippies” as she lovingly refers to her parents. “In the 60s they set out on a hippie journey traveling the country and doing what hippies did,” she says.
What they did was travel the back roads of the U.S., Canada and Mexico in a gypsy wagon where Serena was born, delivered by her father. Later they settled into a tiny cabin in the woods of Northern California.
“We were dirt poor,” she says matter-of-factly. She remembers going through landfills with her parents and collecting old toy trucks to use for storing onions or buttons or such. “My Dad would use old scraps of leather for hinges and my Mom would use old material to make our clothing,” she says.
Early on she was inspired by her parent’s thriftiness and style. “They were so creative. I gained a clever knack for thrifty creativity and turning ordinary objects into something useful. And I dreamed of the home I would create for my own family someday,” she says.
As her family continued to travel she loved finding things others had thrown away and finding useful ways to reuse them.
At a certain age though, a girl just wants to be like the other girls. “When my sister and I got to be older and wanted to look like the other girls, my dad bought a converter, which is something you can attach to a car battery, and it takes a little of the juice and you could plug in a curling iron and have a few minutes of power,” she says with a laugh. “And then he rigged up something to hook up to the blower so we could attach a hose and dry our hair on the way to school.”
Although her early life was difficult at times, she now appreciates some of the hardships her family went through.
“I’m so thankful for that experience and I have a great appreciation for that because now I almost do better having less, and figuring out how I can make something out of nothing. I think if you’re born with everything you need, you don’t appreciate it as much,” she says.
“That’s how I was always raised. That’s how I got interested in antiques and being resourceful. For me it was something I really loved.”
Suffice it to say her gratitude didn’t surface immediately.
“The day after I graduated from high school, I moved to Barrow, Alaska to a tiny little village as far north as you can go,” she says. “There was a family there from my home town who ran an airline. I ended up being a ticket agent and thought I’d move there for the summer then come back and go to college.”
The summer turned into seven years. She ended up enjoying being self-sufficient and making a lot of money, a lot compared to what she grew up with.
Eventually she attended a “small vocational college” and met her future husband. She came to Spokane during a summer visit to “meet the parents” of her then-fiancée Colin. “I fell in love with the area and was so tired of no sun for so many months. Spokane is so beautiful in the summertime and we decided to move here,”
Spirit of the Farm Sale
Before the Farm Chicks Show became the Farm Chicks Show, it was a little sale in a friend’s barn. Thompson asked her best friend Teri Edwards to join her in her venture of selling “funky old items” and within two years the sale was so popular they had to move it out of the barn to the Five Mile Grange Hall. They quickly outgrew that venue and moved to the town of Fairfield in 2004, where there were buildings as well as tents, erected at the town park for the growing number of vendors.
In 2009 there were two major shifts: Edwards retired from the business leaving Serena the lone Farm Chick to manage the business, and the show moved to the Spokane County Fairgrounds where it hosts more than 200 vendors and elbow-to-elbow shopping on the first day of the show. It is, according to Country Living and Flea Market Style Magazines, one of the best sales of its kind in the country. Both vendors and shoppers come from across the U.S. to attend the big sale. This year more than 10,000 visitors passed through the show in two days.
Husband Colin has always helped out in the business end of Farm Chicks, since he is a business manager and accountant; Serena relies on him to take care of the financial areas. “If a business doesn’t have sound financial footing you can really get into a bad situation,” she says. “I can’t do both things at one time. I can’t be creative (and do finances for the business) at the same time. It works out well for us so thank goodness,” she says.
Today she says she’s the luckiest girl in the world and wouldn’t appreciate what she has if she hadn’t experienced a childhood without all the necessities like indoor plumbing, electricity and luxuries like dishwashers and television.
Her creativity abounds. She blogs about all things domestic, vintage, crafty and foodie. She is a contributing editor for Country Living Magazine has authored two books: one with her friend Teri called Country Living The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen: Live Well, Laugh Often, Cook Much, and Country Living The Farm Chicks Christmas: Merry Ideas for the Holidays, which she wrote by herself. Both books center around ideas for entertaining, crafts and recipes woven through with delightful stories of family and friends.
What is a Farm Chick? A Farm Chick is a girl who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She loves her family. She laughs a lot. She’s farmgirl meets Fifth Avenue and with a little style, she’ll change the world.
Note of Correction From Serena: Although the article states I was attending the vocational college in Alaska, I was actually an employee there, as was Colin.
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