Local woman’s career stemmed from love of collecting

By Erica Allaby, Staff Writer

November 9, 2012

A heavy-set woman pushes her sweet baby boy in his carriage through what seems to be an outdoor grocery store. Only instead of groceries, strange knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes line the aisles; an extravagant maze filled with items from iron-rusted gates to delicate mermaid figurines. The wide-eyed baby giggles loudly as he points to a tiny, red-cheeked lawn gnome. “He loves this,” she remarks to the owner as she proceeds to stroll through the lawn.

Who needs a park or museum when you’ve got The Oak Hollow Market down the street? This scene is far from something you would expect while driving down Eastchester Drive in High Point- a typical Southern drag scattered with banks, home-cooking food chains and gas stations that have been around for over half a century. Yet, as you pass through the 311 intersection, a parade of statues appear out of nowhere, lining the road to welcome those who pass by.

Nearly an acre of land is home to a plethora of trinkets from an enormous cast-iron rooster to baby blue, paint-chipped windowpanes. In the center of the chaos lies a tiny shop, no bigger than 40-square-feet around. This shop was long ago home to a local Southern convenience store, owned by a couple that could not keep up with the rent.

Luckily for Julia Thornberry – “Yes, Thornberry as in The Wild Thornberry’s,” she points out to her customers – she was able to purchase the spot for next to nothing nearly 20 years ago. That was the moment that the Oak Hollow Market was born.

Today, she sits in the comfort of her cluttered shop, resting in the center of one of the largest selections of concrete statues in the Triad, often known as a concrete sanctuary, which is only appropriate. Thornberry smiles cheery-eyed, sporting a soft pink polo shirt; a 73-year-old woman with white wispy hair. “What are my favorite things out in the yard? The weird lookin’ ones,” she says about her careful selection of lawn ornaments, as a soap opera plays on a 13-inch television behind her.

The shop itself smells of aging leather and stale air; and for a reason. Three of the walls are absolutely devoured by books and a pale blue curtain, and a sign stating “EMPLOYEES ONLY” covers the fourth wall. Hard to believe there could be much more room for even one more person in there. The Market is without a doubt a second home to Thornberry, as seen through the presence of a white mini-fridge in the corner with a sticker saying, “Git-R-Done,” as well as stocked with white bread and a big jug of Sunny D.

Outside, grasshoppers make friends with the statues and there is a faint smell of incense. “Some of that stuff has been out there for years. We mostly just put the older stuff in the back and the newer stuff in the front,” says Thornberry. From brilliant colored pots to old vacuums, there is surely something for everyone.

Thornberry’s sister walks around the front of the market, shifting items here and there, wearing her dirtied gardening gloves, as Thornberry helps a customer mount a ruby red-tiled concrete bench into her car.

When driving past this concrete sanctuary, you’ve got to wonder if Julie loses much money to thievery in the night. “We’ve had a few steals in the past, but it’s not as bad as people might think,” says Thornberry. The last case she could remember was a statue of a hunting dog. “A man came up to barter with me and got mad cause I wouldn’t sell it real cheap. The next day it was gone.”

Interestingly enough, the aged and weathered look of the objects are often times exactly what decorators are looking for, so they’re willing to spend a bit more for the authenticity of it all. On the other hand, there are the people who come in and try to get it cheaper.

So how are these thousands of items acquired so rapidly? Trips to other massive lawn-ornament distributors- well that and backyard sellers. “We just went and got a truckload the other day in that big ole’ truck out there,” Thornberry said in reference to the small white moving truck hidden behind the trees in a drive-way next to the lawn. “It was so full that the bottom of the truck was nearly draggin’ all the way home.”

Jake, Thornberry’s grandson, is responsible for all of the dirty work- a 17-year-old high school senior with big bones and soft freckles. “It’s pretty fun, I reckon’,” Jake says in reference to coming around the shop and seeing all the newest items. He’s in charge of intricately zigging and zagging around the lawn with a mower, as well as unloading the truck whenever they get in new shipments. “There’s so much stuff, I can’t keep track,” says Jake.

Back out in the yard, plots of pots strategically line the aisles by shape and size, but one pot is isolated from the others. Sitting beneath a billowing, leafless tree is a royal blue pot, a size capable for a toddler to hide in. Yet, this is no normal flower planter. Sculpted into the front is the shape of a face; a delicate nose and mouth, but no eyes, that’s for your own imagination.

Prices of the ornaments range from one dollar to $500. From time to time, people try to barter with Thornberry to lower the prices, but for the most part, she doesn’t receive many complaints about pricing. Surprisingly, an 80-pound bag of concrete only costs $4.18 at Lowe’s home improvement store. It may cost around three of these bags to create a small stone statue, but Julia purchases these statues from other sellers, who inevitably price up the statues.

An enormous truck pulling a 15-foot trailer pulls up in front of the shop. Two men hop out and immediately pinpoint two large flower planters to purchase. Thornberry takes care of the money, as Jake grabs the dolly and helps to load up the truck. Just as quickly as the men pulled in, they pull out with nothing but a trail of dirt left in their path.

“Those are my favorite types of customers,” remarks Jake, “when they’ve got a woman with ‘em, now that’s when they take a few hours.”

As Jake walks to yard, he glances up a giant, iron skeleton of a rooster. “She gets carried away sometimes. Me and my other cousin are always giggling at some of the stuff she ends up with,” he says in reference to his grandma.

Despite how overwhelming the lot can appear to be at times, Thornberry loves The Oak Hollow Market for what it is- an enormous collection of  “weird lookin’ stuff.” She reclines comfortably behind the shop’s counter, finding peace in the center of the storm.