By Jennifer Hafer | Photography by Samantha Shal
If you’ve ever traversed Cumming Highway in Free Home, chances are you’ve noticed The Green Bean Exchange. If you’re a lover of antiques or vintage items, and you haven’t already visited the store, no doubt you’ve made a mental note to stop the next time you’re in the area.
The original Free Home store opened six years ago in its 1,800-square-foot location with nine dealers, most of whom have multiple booths and have been there since the beginning.
The Green Bean now boasts an eclectic group of three antique malls throughout suburban Atlanta.
“Times got tough when the market crashed, so my ex-husband and I opened The Green Bean to sustain us,” owner Kellie Milford said. “We had always gone to auctions and collected antiques, so it just worked out.”
Specializing in a wide spectrum of merchandise, from mid-Century, primitives, art deco, traditional, re-purposed, industrial, even vinyl records and vintage clothing, “The Bean,” as it’s known to regulars, has something for everyone.
“I’ve worked in corporate America, and even though as a small business owner it’s all you, and it’s a lot of hard work, you get out of it what you put into it,” Milford said. “No one is getting rich selling antiques, but it’s the best job in the world!”
Milford said she goes out picking two or three times a month at auctions, and yard and estate sales. Estate sales are her favorite she said, noting they can provide large lots of inventory.
“Six years ago when we opened, basically all the antique stores around had closed, but the TV show ‘American Pickers’ and Pinterest have really helped revive the trade,” she said.
Some of the more interesting items that have come into the store include a Shaker’s Bench and a left-handed hog scraper. For you city folk, a hog scraper is a primitive farm tool used in the butchering of hogs to scrape the hair off a pig’s carcass. More common uses today can be found on Pinterest or eBay, where they have been converted into candlestick holders or other lighting.
Then there was the haunted chair…
“There was this Victorian chair that a customer purchased and returned a week later claiming it was haunted,” Milford said. “She said she communicated with the spirit through a pendulum and that it scared her dog. She also said it actually moved across the room! I re-tagged it and put it back on the floor, ‘haunted chair; see Kellie for story,’ and it sold a week later!”
A single mom of two, 10-year-old Cleo and 14-year-old Reid, Milford credits loyal customers with the store’s success. A great location and a good variety of merchandise, along with a store soundtrack that includes Billie Holiday, also helps.
“I have customers who have become great friends,” she said. “One of my friends said when I have my reality show, it should be called ‘Junk Store Therapist’ because I have so many people come in and shop who just need a friendly person to lend an ear.”
12573 Cumming Highway, Canton, GA 30115