Years ago, Jill Hancock took young mother Catherene Morton to the thrift shops on Fourth Avenue.
With some bin-digging, there were “great baby clothes” to be had at terrific prices, Morton said. Shopping was fun, “but only if it’s a bargain.”
Together, the two women wrote “On Sale Tucson,” the book about good deals in the Old Pueblo.
“And the rest is history,” said Morton, who today uses “all the experiences of rooting through those dark corners of so many stores” in search of bargains. She’s the owner of HomeStyle Galleries, Tucson’s two gently used and new furniture stores.
Morton’s personal history wasn’t made right away.
She earned a law degree at the University of Arizona and became an attorney, conducting contract work in juvenile court. Ten years later, “it was burnout time,” she admits. Morton found herself representing “bad parents,” and serving more as a social worker than an advocate for children.
Her father, Frank X. Morton, helped with her law practice, writing “the big checks” and wondering how “Rene” was going to make it.
“He was very proud I was a lawyer,” she said, but was concerned whether she could earn a living. “’Rene,’” he’d say, “’maybe you should do something else.”
Frank passed away. But his voice remained.
Catherene found Terri Bowersock, the “queen of consignment furniture,” through a random classified ad in the newspaper.
“I read this ad about an opportunity to own a franchise, quality consignment furniture in a super store format,” Morton said. She asked a friend in greater Phoenix, Grace Wanderley, to check out Terri’s stores. Grace was “impressed,” Morton said.
So Morton stopped practicing law, and opened her first store, Terri’s Consign and Design, at Prince and Campbell on April 26, 1996, the birthday of her son Michael Ryers.
“I quickly found it was two businesses, consignment, partnering with people, and you’ve got to find these people, and the selling part, the regular furniture part,” Morton said. “In the beginning, I wondered ‘how am I going to fill this 8,000 square foot store?’”
Morton figured it out, and then some. The business is challenging, “even in good times,” she said. It was fun “from Day 1, and I’ve never stopped having a good time.
“My social work side gets addressed, because I really do feel I’m helping people,” Morton said. “And it feeds my creative side, which I really didn’t know I had. I love arranging the furniture, and figuring out what goes with what. That’s what I do, every day.”
After six years with the franchise, Catherene and Terri “went our separate ways. It was amicable.” She “went through every possible word combination I could think of,” and named the business HomeStyle Galleries. It was expanded to Ina and Thornydale, and then Broadway and Wilmot. Three locations proved to be too much, in 2000, and then after the attacks of Sept. 11. She’s now running two locations, Ina and Shannon in the Northwest, and the 1010 S. Wilmot spot.
The current, 15,000-square-foot Ina location “was just a shell,” formerly an Albertson’s grocery store. It took a year to get it ready. But the Northwest, with its higher income and greater percentage of new homes, has been good for HomeStyle Galleries.
Consignments continue to roll in, and HomeStyle picks them up, too.
“I only take the stuff that’s in good to excellent condition,” she said. “Our inventory literally changes every day. You can’t sell it from the back. There is an urgency to get all the incoming stuff, and in a pleasing way,” onto the show floor. “We bring it all out into the daylight.”
New furniture takes work and brains. “We have to get a deal. I get it at a smoking deal, I sell it at a smoking deal. I go to auctions all the time.”
Her workers made six round trips between Tucson and Phoenix recently, picking up the goods Morton purchased at an auction. “I just bought a ton of stuff up there,” she said. Morton hauled 30 lamps in her SUV, creating “beds of lamps” with linens in between.
Morton walked about the Ina store, now managed by Grace Wanderley, her friend who checked out the Phoenix stores a dozen years ago. Grace’s son Ruy is the assistant manager. The owner has complete confidence in their abilities, but can’t help herself, moving this pillow or that plant arrangement.
“Everything in the place is unique,” Morton said. “That’s our niche, the top quality in Tucson of good, used furniture.”
“I’m proud of her,” said friend and consultant Lorraine Anderson. “I know what she went through."