Confessions of a Flea-Market Shopper

With the spirit of entrepreneurship in her blood, Pamela Williams found her true calling in the retail world more than forty years ago. Today, she combines her love for vintage wares and women’s apparel in her boutique, Branching Out—a name that typifies exactly what she does best

Having navigated the country’s best flea markets for years with her mother, shop owner Pamela Williams instinctively arranges compelling displays of eclectic treasures within her own boutique in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. From wall to wall, her store gleams with antique silver, fine china, and other tempting collectibles. “I go to as many markets as I can and try to keep up with the latest thing,” says Pamela, who stocks her store with a well-calculated mix of one-of-a-kind antiques, women’s apparel, and new gift items. “Today, people want understandable items they can relate to—things that are unfussy and functional and that can be used every day.”

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A genuine road warrior, Pamela Williams hits the highway on any given day to scour the country’s best antiques shows and flea markets for her North Carolina boutique, Branching Out. Armed with nothing but a high-top van and her bichon frise, Max, she always returns with a surprising cache of vintage finds her patrons continually deem irresistible. Her shop has become a popular nook within the cozy University Mall in Chapel Hill and a happy diversion for anyone looking beyond the sameness of big-box stores and cookie-cutter design. “My customers are typically very educated, well traveled, and savvy,” says Pamela. “They’re tired of mass-produced products from chain stores and megamalls, and they can find what they need here.”

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The evanescent wares at Branching Out range from handmade antique furniture and smalls to esoteric specialty merchandise, including fine linens, Victorian “whites,” and triple-milled luxury soaps and lotions. This proprietary blend of sorts offers browsers an exceptional shopping experience—an inviting space that is visually balanced, expertly intermingled, and lovingly chosen. “People liken us to an Anthropologie on steroids,” explains the owner, who decided to put her once-separate home-décor shop and her women’s clothing boutique, Night Gallery, under one roof in 2010. “I thought it would make life easier, but it was actually more work,” she admits. “I’m constantly on the road hunting for vintage but at the same time keeping up a 6,400-square-foot space.”

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Pamela is a champion of the hunt, and she knows when to jump onboard current trends and when to reposition herself to fetch the next big thing. A master of flea-market decorum, she has learned to speak a language that, in turn, has cultivated lifelong friendships with professionals in her industry. “I’ve met so many people—the kindest people,” she notes. “I go by myself and many times have had dealers help load my entire truck for me.”

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Pamela combs the most-renowned markets in the country, including Ohio’s Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market and the Burlington Antique Show in Kentucky. A Boston native, she also has many fond memories of shopping both the spring and summer shows at Brimfield, Massachusetts, with her mother. “The bonding we did all those years really gave me a deep appreciation for heirloom-quality handmade whites—sturdy cotton hand-embroidered trims, damasks, laces, wedding gowns, and monogrammed napkins,” she recalls. “I always joke that I’ve let go of several relationships in my life, but I can’t let go of a tea towel!”

From “Shopkeeper Extraordinaire” in the May/June 2012 issue of Victoria magazine.

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