MASON, Ohio -- Lacy Alfrey’s breakthrough moment came after she became a single mother and moved into a rental apartment with her three small children.
It hit her all at once: People need good-quality products to set up their homes — items they should be able to acquire at affordable prices — and women should always be able to support themselves and their children.
With that, she drew up plans for a consignment store.
Five years ago, she started This n That Consignments in an 800-square-foot store. Sales for the first year were $12,000.
Less than a year later, she moved into a new 1,300-square-foot location on Reading Road in Mason, and now, several expansions later, the store is up to 10,000 square feet.
Last year’s sales were $600,000.
“I wanted to provide my kids with an awesome life. I wanted to stand up for myself. I also wanted my store to be taken seriously,” she said. “I wanted to build a place where people could buy beautiful, high-end things for a great price.”
Alfrey, 31, was on public assistance with her children, Alyssa, Olivia and Ian at the time she started the store, when the kids were 7, 2 and 1.
“I didn’t want my store to be a ‘glorified garage sale,’ and nor did I want it to be seen as a hobby.”
Alfrey recalls the first item she ever sold. It was a $16.85 snowman on a stick — a contrast to the $3,500 copper-top dining table she sold later on.
“It’s a lovely life now. I don’t want to ever depend on a man again,” confessed Alfrey, who emphasized she means financially not emotionally. “It was very difficult feeling that way.”
She has since married Brian Alfrey, 51, a mechanic. They live in Monroe.
Alfrey was born in Canadaquia, New York, and raised in Cincinnati along with her brother Jesse, now 26. Her father, Wayne Coursen, is a motorcycle mechanic and her mother, Lynn, is in motorcycle sales.
Alfrey dropped out of high school a few months before graduation because she was pregnant. Her first child was born on her 18th birthday.
But she always held on to her dream of being an entrepreneur. Alfrey has an eye for beautiful things and a talent for displaying them in the store.
Items for sale include brands like Ethan Allen, Restoration Hardware and Hooker, and budget-friendly items like Ikea. And she has more unique items like ancient Asian furniture, rosewood tables, Rookwood pottery, Lenox china and women’s designer clothing, purses and shoes.
“We have a lot of good nice pieces for good prices, and everyone loves a bargain,” Alfrey said.
A unique aspect of the store is the fact that it is run by an all-women staff. Rene Koons is the manager and handles the store with her daughter, Tera.
Tera, 21, a single mother, often brought her now 8-month-old daughter, Raelyn, to the store until she was ready to go to daycare.
“Women have daily struggles with work, with relationships, with money and other issues that only we understand, and my staff is my family,” Alfrey said.
“We lean on each other.”
One recent day, as the women were huddled together on a sofa in the aisle listening to Joel Osteen’s audiobook, “The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life,” they were joined by two customers.
“Things like that happen all the time to us. Our long-time regular customers connect with us,” Alfrey said.
If there is a downside to an all-women establishment, it’s that sometimes people try to take advantage of them. But Alfrey says they have learned to not be intimidated.
“I tell male customers, ‘We are women and we are mothers, we gave birth to you and you need to respect us,’” she said.
Or if they notice someone switching tags or doing something dishonest, they tell the offending customer politely, “We saw what you did.” Those offenders don’t return.
Tera is the observant guardian, fiercely protecting the store.
“It’s like my home. It’s like a regular family unit. I love being here. I feel lucky because my schedule is so flexible,” she said.
Rene, who is also single, lives with her daughter and granddaughter in Morrow. She is also a certified public accountant. She is drawn to Alfrey’s strength.
“Lacy always tells me we can be independent, we are strong women and we can take care of our children,” said Rene, who added that Alfrey does a lot for the community by donating clothing and purses to battered-women shelters and other charities but never wants any public recognition for it.
Customers who frequent the consignment store say there is none like it in the area.
“My house should be called ‘This n That Consignment Junior,’” Debbie Lyons, 56, of Wayneville, jokes, “because I have bought so much from them, like furniture, lamps and pictures.
“They make you feel so welcome. They will hold stuff for you and they will work with you to pick it.”
Cheryl Foste, 68, moved to Oxford from Arkansas in 2013. She had inherited a historic house, which she has turned into a bed-and-breakfast called Sycamore Farms Country Inn.
Foste furnished her entire bed-and-breakfast with furniture, rugs, pictures, lamps and china from Alfrey’s store. She estimates she has probably spent $9,000 there.
“I walked into the store and simply fell in love with it. The girls were delightful, the stuff was really awesome, and if something is scratched or chipped, they will point it out to you and will graciously lower the price,” Forte said.
Ruthie Brewster, 55, a Fairfield stay-at-home mom and grandmother, says she can shop for furniture and items that work for three generations.
“I love shopping there. It’s a place where you find many treasures that you don’t find anywhere else these days, like ancient chairs and oversized book cabinets,” Brewster said.
Alfrey is so determined to succeed as an entrepreneur that she is already starting on her next, unrelated, business venture, called VIP Communications, which will focus on motivating people to start their own businesses.