The seeds for a Superior business were sown when Jay Pittman and LeaAnn Anderson went on their first date more than seven years ago. The pair had a friend drop them off in Duluth and they started walking.
"We hit every thrift store, every antique store, every art gallery and we spent the whole day just looking at cool stuff and talking," Pittman said. "And then we ended up going to lunch, then we took the ship tour. Then we went bowling."
Anderson spoke of owning a thrift shop of her own, an idea that stayed with them through many more dates. They began purchasing van loads of items from storage units, estate and garage sales and selling their contents online.
"We started doing this as kind of a hobby and goofball thing," Pittman said. "Seven years later, here we are."
Annie's Attic opened in mid-November at 1423 Belknap St. It offers a sampling of their finds.
"We literally have just about everything; it's crazy," said Pittman, who owns the business. "We have everything from old 45s to DVDs, Blue Rays, antiques, cookie jars, jewelry, Japanese masks, tools, Chance the dog, Cinderella crystal sets, antique Italian blowfish. We have a lot of Native American stuff; a lot of silver; lots of crystal."
The inventory is priced for a quick turnaround, like costume jewelry for $2.
"We're letting things go for nickels on the dollar because we want 'em moved," Pittman said. "And that gives us more space to go out and look for more stuff."
Customers are treated to a rotating display of items.
"We've got regulars who come in every day to see what we have new, because there's something new every day," Pittman said.
Ryan Flemming helped Pittman unload his first storage unit, filled with what the pair referred to as designer "one-offs."
"You hear of Rembrandt? They had a Rambrindt. You've heard of Chanel; they had Channel. Everything they had was just a little off," Pittman said.
The work is nothing like the show "Storage Wars," they said, although occasionally a locker yields a rare find, like a pair of Czechoslovakian amplifiers worth $5,000.
The items are purchased boxed up - a complete unknown. That brings an element of surprise to the business.
"Every day is Christmas," Pittman said. "Every time you open up a box."
After a number of coincidences, he and Flemming have developed a new theme: Trust the locker.
"I go buy something I needed, say a skill saw, and the next morning, we'd open up a tote and there's three skill saws," Pittman said. "Whatever you look for, just open a tote. It's there."
Another perk of the business is never having to buy a jacket. The shop carries vintage, brand-name and collectible clothing as well as leather jackets and scrubs.
Pittman said every time he finds something odd and puts it out, it sells the very next day.
"If I think it's very weird, it's popular," he said.
As for their coolest finds so far, Flemming said they've already sold. But plenty of boxes are waiting to be unpacked. The shop also highlights different items each weekend, like a knickknack clearance sale or tool sale.
Pittman still sells big ticket finds online, but the thrift store offers customers a chance to find their own treasure at affordable prices.
A few weeks after Annie's Attic opened, Anderson was diagnosed with advanced acute leukemia. Pittman said her co-workers at Essentia Health have donated vacation time to help extend her health insurance coverage.
As Anderson undergoes treatment at the Mayo Clinic and Pittman makes weekly trips to be with her, friends and family have volunteered to help run the shop.
"I love this place," said Flemming, one of the volunteers. "Every day of the week I'm here."
He was happy to help the couple.
"They're amazing people. They're funny," Flemming said. "Jay is like, hilarious. LeaAnn is just as funny. She's a sweetheart. I love her to death."
She's an inspiration, Pittman said.
"If it wasn't for her, none of this would have been done," he said. "I just need to keep it going until she can come back to it and then we'll take it from there."
Annie's Attic is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Information on the thrift store is posted on Facebook on the "Annie's Attic" page and "The Superior People Page."