When other 4-year-olds had allowance money to spend, Greg Dixson dragged around a wagon full of wares so he could earn his own.
The 63-year-old owner of the Pendleton secondhand store We Sell Stuff said he always liked having money and never saw a profit in stealing, so selling things became second nature.
After getting out of the military, Dixson put himself through college in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the GI Bill and a side business selling used items.
Yard sales were a new fad across the nation, he said, but people hadn’t quite figured out how to use them successfully. Dixson encountered a man who was upset no one bought anything at his Wednesday yard sale, griping that he should have just taken everything to the dump. Dixson told the man he would dispose of the entire lot and even pay him a small sum. He then sold all of the items at a flea market. Before long, he was making $1,000 a week turning one person’s junk into another person’s treasure.
After college, Dixson spent 30 years in the mountains, migrating to pick wild edibles, such as mushrooms, that he sold to restaurants. A heart attack put an end to his nomadic lifestyle, but a new life awaited when he headed West.
Dixson finally got a day job dealing blackjack at the Wildhorse Casino about 10 years ago. He got married, had children and then he got cancer. Doctors told him he couldn’t be on his feet all day, and he found himself unemployed. He said he didn’t have enough money to provide for his children, so he returned to his entrepreneurial roots.
With little money in his pocket, Dixson went to a storage unit auction. No one bid on one of the units, so he offered $1. Inside the unit, in a drawer in an antique end table, he found a $2 bill and immediately doubled his money. He ended up making $700 selling the items he purchased at that auction at yard sales.
In September 2014, he opened We Sell Stuff on Southwest First Street in downtown Pendleton. The $2 bill is still on display at the store. Dixson said his favorite find is money because “it cuts out the middle man.”
The secondhand store features an eclectic mix: from power tools to antique furniture, from an old police crime kit to motorcycles, from shelves filled with unique trinkets to an entire room of arcade games that he acquired for a good price for the same reason he was able to acquire everything else: Somebody else wanted to get rid of them.
With the money he earns, Dixson restocks the business at auctions to keep his inventory fresh. He travels as far as Nampa, Idaho, Spokane, Washington, and Portland to find auctions. He said he once got scabies at a storage facility that had housed a chicken farm.
“It’s not like on TV,” he said. “I hate that show, ‘Storage Wars.’”
Dixson said he used to compete with just one other local secondhand store owner, but competition has increased and driven up prices. Many more people believe they can turn a profit purchasing unknown items, he said. Even with a storefront, business can be slow.
“It’s picking up, but it’s a struggle trying to stay alive,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to save money? People should check here before buying new.”
With his keen eye, honed from years of experience, Dixson said he has only lost money on one unit in the last four years. It looked pristine. Everything was clean, boxed and labeled with titles such as “dining room” and “bedroom.” He paid $500. When he started opening the boxes, he discovered they were all full of paperback romance novels. He paid someone else $100 to get rid of them.
Most of his purchases, however, have either been sold to someone again or are on display in his shop or stored in his warehouse. If an item does not have a price tag, he encourages people to make an offer, and he said he often gives deals.
“If I’m making money, I don’t care what I sell it for,” he said. “I’m not going to give stuff away, but I’m trying to run this like a yard sale.”
Dixson said people can also haggle for the items that do have a price listed. All of the price tags in the store include “OBO” — or best offer — except one: a photograph of Janis Joplin that Dixson found in a unit.
“That’s my favorite thing I’ve found,” he said. “I don’t really want to get rid of her. It’s marked at $200. I mean, I say that, but if you came in and offered me $100 — I love you, Janis, but...”