Scrounger’s Paradise in Asheville, NC
March 18, 2012 by Susan Murray
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. It means a “happy accident” and encapsulates the random discovery of something useful or good when not really looking for it.
Last week, James and I went shopping for a mirror for the master bathroom in the addition we are putting on our Asheville bed and breakfast. We thought it would be interesting to find an old mirror or frame so we were touring the many antique stores of the area.
Antiques in Asheville range from the valuable and well restored to what others might loosely call “junk”. But one person’s junk is another’s treasure and you never know where you will find what you are looking for. In this case, we weren’t really finding what we were looking for and we had expanded our usual search to include some of the shops a bit out of town when we came upon an intriguing sign, “Scrounger’s Paradise, turn right here!”.
Turning “right here” took us up a very empty road to what seemed to be an old factory. There was no sign out front and nothing to indicate what was inside. This was Monday and the store was closed that day but we were intrigued. Looking it up online made us even more curious. The shop seemed to specialize in selling exotic hardwood flooring but then also listed a bunch of other odd items ( Mardi Gras masks for example). Curiouser and curiouser. How could we not return?
So the next day we went back to the unprepossessing building on the hill. We entered a nicely decorated room with a gorgeous wood table holding a display of African Art. Next door was a room with an array of exotic wood samples where we spent some time as we were considering using acacia wood for our living room floor at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. It all seemed very normal, and then we crossed the hall and opened the door and fell down the rabbit hole!
We walked into a vast warehouse at least the size of a football field, piled high with crates and pallets and boxes. James made a beeline for the construction area and I soon lost him in aisles of wood trim and beams. As I rounded the corner near some french porcelain toilets, I spied an area which reminded me of Singapore and the Pottery Jungle (now sadly defunct). It’s a mystery who in the Blue Ridge Mountains is buying large marble dragons and pots but many of the items had sold signs on them.
Hidden by the Asian artifacts was a beautiful wooden Chris Craft which looked like it might have been built in the 1950′s. Next to that was a marble sink top and bathroom vanity. There was a pedicure chair from a manicure salon, and boxes full of tiles, wooden doors and construction equipment. We even found a couple of cases of hazmat suits which James thought would make a neat Halloween costume except for the fact that these looked like they might have been used which made them a little suspect.
Eventually we made our way full circuit and back to the front where, seated at a large steel desk (shades of Sam Spade) we found the owner of this Paradise: Mark Olivari. Mark is a fascinating man who told us he was from Argentina, although he had been born in Japan where his father was in the foreign service. He moved to the United States when he was six and grew up in New Orleans–a story which sounded so familiar given the background of our children and their friends!
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It was clear from the beginning that Mark knows and loves wood. He is a charming man who will enthusiastically take you through his warehouse and help you find exactly what you need, telling you stories about the things you are passing all the while. The hardwood flooring is all new flooring, imported by Mark, mostly from South America and only from FSC certified lumberyards (sustainable forestry). Mark helped us find a wood we liked for our living room: Brazilian Canary Wood. All the while he was spouting out stories about the warehouse. Basically his main business is hardwood importation but he also buys goods which the USDA has seized at customs as well as goods from end of business sales. The boxes of dried flowers came from one such business (and he admits to wishing he hadn’t taken that one on). As we were leaving he took us over to a room full of bags of what seemed to be just rocks. These were part of a Federal sale he had been to and when he saw them he immediately bought the lot. They were lapis lazuli from Afghanistan! He gave me two of the rocks as a gift and I plan on having them polished at one of the gem stores here in Asheville. This was truly serendipity.