This time at home, preparing to wrap up Ardent Market's first year and navigating the stillness in this pandemic, I've spent a lot of time in my rearview mirror. Thinking about the road already traveled and taking a look back at where it all began, literally on a highway three years ago.
At 25, after I helped my mentor close his (incredible, life-changing) store, and I wondered what I was going to do with my life, I packed up my little Mazda and embarked on my first epic road trip.
Mind you, when I say road trip, it wasn't a four-hour drive with snack stops and instagramable lookouts. Well, it was, but also it was an over two-month-long journey where I tore out across 26 states, more than 12,000 miles, and countless cities and national parks. And to add to the drama of those numbers, this was a solo cross country trip. It was my "eat, pray, love." And by that, I mean eat (really incredible food, all the time), panic cry and meditate frequently, and fall head over heels for the USA.
I'm not sure entirely what, at 25, I needed to see, but being an aggressive homebody, suddenly jobless and with some small savings and a borrowed camera, I guess I saw myself as a travel blogger. I mean, I had a blog, I liked to write, and people wanted to go with me.
The trouble was I hated being a tourist, and I was really bad at it. My idea of travel is to have zero plans, and just go. I did, for the anxiety, plan the route, and pre-book my stays. Some days I had a list of things I wanted to see, but most of the time, I was wingin' it— As only I know how in inappropriate situations. I know I disappointed people by not spending time in museums or tours; my plan was to ask every friendly local their favorite part of the town and lean into that suggestion.
I think you get by now that I'm not a joiner, so the best part of my trip was actually about developing unyielding personal sovereignty. You see, I didn't have any time tricks or people to fall back on. If I wanted to see it, I had to decide to go. If I was hungry, I had to choose what to eat. If I was tired, I organized where I would stay next. It wasn't really that I found myself, I just discovered how to show up, be seen, ask strangers to take pictures, get life stories from locals in rowdy bars, and let myself explore a little bit. I allowed myself to be awful and wonderful at something. And I think that's why I'm here now.
As much as I am not a great tourist, I am good at life. If you can be good at it? I'm not the authority, but I would say I'm doing great. I've always kind of done things how I do them, and I've never been one to shy away from hard changes or exploration. But, not having any semblance of a life-path after my dad passed and my working home closed, I was in that freefall going "so far, so good," somersaulting my way to a crash landing.
I landed with a thud in Concord, North Carolina, in a 90 thousand square foot antique mall. To put that into perspective, it had a food court. One of my uncles told me I would like it, and they ended up calling me to see if I was going to make it back to Charlotte for dinner. I got lost filling up 3 carts worth of things, and a 5' dough bowl, which my family has lovingly renamed "The Canoe." The entire store was whispering about the California girl buying a bunch of stuff. Halfway through my power shopping, I called my mom and told her I was going to start a shop of my own. You know, the normal things you do when you're 2,110 miles from home, in a tiny sedan, and only halfway through your trip. She asked me what took me so long.
That night I used up dozens of pages in my travel journal and talked about what this shop would look like, who it was for, what made it special, what I would carry. I didn't sleep much in my Uncles' condo, but I dreamed. I scrolled through pictures and stashed all the business cards I instinctively picked up from the beginning. I was so grateful the buyer, trained in me, never really subsided. Suddenly, the items I collected because they were cool, and would make great Christmas gifts, turned into the pulse of the vintage collection you've shopped.
This is why I take so much pride in labeling where things come from, especially the vintage. As my love for the US grew, I started to form attachments with friendly Fort Collins natives, artistic communities in Santa Fe / Madrid, Scarborough farmers, and the native lands of so many pioneering, creative people. Any time I think about bringing in a new maker or artist, I still check my stack of business cards, first. Or I pour over a maker's about page. I'll probably always be collecting life stories, new places, and beautiful objects.
Ardent Market began from wild, intuitive, epiphanies. Out of an impulse to see, explore, connect, I found a way to visualize, share, and build. It's part of AM history to take to the road in discovery and exploration, just to see what could happen. It might not mean being in a little car piled with boxes (you haven't seen me at a good flea yet), but it will always be in celebration of the beauty of this country, its resources, and the incredible people who inhabit it. I'm so grateful for the road we've covered together, and I'm so looking forward to the miles ahead, uncharted, with a full tank.