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By Kristen Domingue
In our interview with Kelly Callison of a2vintage, an online and offline vintage and antique dealer, we noticed her commitment to doing what she loved and how much it informed every choice in her life. Whether she’s in the process of reclaiming something once-loved for resale, or simply living and loving her family and friends, Kelly is a model of what it means to put love first. Kelly is is a sterling example of what it looks like when we let love win — both in business and in life.
I went to graduate school at the University of Kentucky and got a degree in Environmental Science. My plan was to work for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the Department of Labor. But after years working in the field, I realized I really wanted to work for myself. Putting in 60-70 hours a week for someone else just doesn’t give you the same satisfaction that it does when you’re working for yourself.
When I started selling vintage items online, it was to support a collecting habit more than anything else. But I quickly saw how well it was doing. I’ve always enjoyed searching for and finding treasures that would otherwise get discarded and be forever forgotten.
The hunt has always been the thrill for me. Finding something special and putting it in the hands of people who can appreciate it, love it, display it — this is what makes everything worth it for me.
With that said, the original business model wasn’t cutting it anymore; I needed a sustainable source of income. This wasn’t just a side-gig to fuel my collecting habit anymore. My parents owned several businesses, including one where we traveled together to trade shows, so I had an idea of what it might look like to own my own business as a mom and a wife.
One Business, Three Revenue Streams
As a2vintage grew, we became three separate businesses rolled into one. The shop has turned into a record shop with original advertising (my passion), industrial furniture and fixtures, and vintage tees (also a personal favorite). The trade shows we attend are more antiques and vintage advertising-driven.
It bears saying that without our online sales, I’m not sure where we’d be. A brick-and-mortar shop in my mind legitimizes a business. People trust you, and they trust your product. That’s important, it’s a huge contributor to our success. We do a lot of trade shows and face-to-face interaction with our customers. It’s amazing and I love it, but most people shop online and lose out on real-life experiences.
Personally, I prefer face-to-face interaction and talking to people. Hearing them reminisce and tell stories about their past is fascinating. It personalizes things; if you create experiences, you put a face to a business. Then, I can pass some of the stories on to our customers, bringing the value of a once-forgotten item full-circle.
It’s important to mention that I never started out intending to own a record shop. A smart business person always listens to what their customers want, which is exactly what we did. I’m proud of what we’ve become, even if it wasn’t originally what I had planned.
I’m also proud of my mom for taking on the role as manager, boss, partner, and mom to all. That was also never in the plans. The original plan was for me to run the shop during the day. But the need for someone to be on the road to unearth new treasures was greater than my need to be in the shop, given how much support we have. I’m lucky my mom is available in the shop managing the demand so I can curate the supply.
Everything All the Time Means Tough Choices
Blending work and family is difficult because we have three small children. My wife has a full-time job as a school librarian. Owning your own business is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week commitment. Fortunately, we have a lot of support from our families. My mother runs the brick-and-mortar store, which leaves me more flexibility to take care of online sales, weekend shows, and buying trips. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to have a shop.
As often as possible, my wife and kids join me, especially if it’s a day trip to an auction or to make a delivery. My dad goes with me on longer trips, like one coming up this fall where we’ll be on the road for three weeks.
Being gone has its advantages and disadvantages though. I miss out on firsts, I miss family meals, I miss family camping trips and get-togethers, but I know my wife has things handled back home. We’re fortunate that we have a support system that picks up my slack.
On Choosing Life and Love
When I met my wife, my world turned upside down. I was working for a major transportation company and I was miserable. I loved the people, but the job? Not so much. She was super supportive and excited about me working for myself. She probably believed in me more than I did.
A couple years into our relationship, I quit that job and started a small online business that morphed into what a2vintage is today. During our nine-year relationship, we got married and had three kids (one now in first grade and one-year-old twins.)
We moved to Hawaii so that my wife could pursue her career as a school librarian. We bought a house and opened a shop without completely losing our minds. Life has thrown us many curveballs, but I like to think we’re doing all right.
Being in a lesbian relationship, we face obstacles in our daily life that our heterosexual counterparts don’t. We had to jump through hoops to have our son — I’m his biological mom and my wife is his birth mom. But in Michigan, the birth parent is the legal parent. I had to carry around a folder three inches thick of paperwork giving me permission to make decisions for him if needed, or even just to pick him up from childcare. I had to get Anne’s permission to ask the doctors questions, even though I was staying home at the time to take care of him.
Once we were allowed (yes, allowed) to get married in the basement of the clerk’s office in Ann Arbor in front of the soda machine, we petitioned the courts immediately so I could adopt Corbin. We didn’t have to do that with the girls, since our marriage is now recognized. My wife and I were part of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fight to uphold our marriage in 2014 after the sixth district court of appeals stayed enforcement of the district court decision to uphold the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Because of that suit, the state was ordered to recognize the 323 marriages performed on March 22, 2014. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we’ll be able to show our children that when you stand up for what you believe in and go about it in an honest and courageous way, you can facilitate change. Our kids will grow up knowing they are loved, they are wanted, and their family is just as legitimate and supported in the eyes of the law as all other families. They’ll know that their mom and I worked hard to have them and love them more than anything on this earth. My family is my greatest accomplishment.
Why I Followed My Passion
Part of choosing to follow my passion was necessity: I needed to work and feel like I was providing for my family as well as my relationship. I don’t do well if I feel like I’m falling short in that area. Growing up, my parents sacrificed everything so that I could have it all. This was my time to make sure my family was taken care of just as well as my parents took care of me. I have a passion for finding beauty and value in otherwise discarded things. I enjoy the hunt, and I enjoy getting things to people who will love them as much as I do. When I took an honest look at the intersection of what I was good at and what I loved, this was it: finding things that were once loved and cherished and giving it to someone who will love and cherish them again.
With the encouragement of my family, I’ve taken that love and turned it into a business. As with anything, it’s hard being a woman in a male-dominated industry, let alone a gay woman. I think that drives me to work harder than most. I need to prove to myself and to them that I can play ball too.
What 39 Years Have Taught Me
My wife and I had a conversation fairly early about having kids, and at first I wasn’t interested. As time went on, I could see she was going to be a great mom, and I always like a challenge! Our son is now six, and like it or not, he’s my mini-me. He’s smart, he’s kind, he loves the heck out of his sisters. He’s polite, he has manners, and he’s funny. My girls are walking and have personalities of their own. They laugh all the time, they find beauty in the smallest of things. They are the best parts of the both of us. There is nothing in this world I’ll ever do better.
On the business side of things, I’m proud of the reputation we’ve built. In this business, the only thing you have is your name and reputation. We work very hard to keep ours intact. That is a key component to our success.
As a counter-balance, I’ve also learned to live life on my own terms. I’m 39 now, and when I look back, I realize that I grew up hiding who I was and living an almost secret life until I was 30 years old. I was afraid to let people know who I was; I wasn’t true to myself. I would tell my 25-year-old self not to do that. I would tell her that every day is a new chance to live life to its fullest.
While there are many inspiring parts of Kelly’s story, one part that stands out is the inevitability of choosing what she loved — both in her personal life and in her professional life. Even if Kelly had not lived a secret life until she was 30, it’s obvious that all roads would have lead her back to what she loves. We’re inspired that whether she chose it, fought for it, reclaimed it, or simply surrendered to it, there is life on the path of choosing love first.