Deep in this underground shop stands a 7-foot-tall brontosaurus made mostly of chicken wire. Off to one side two iron beds with a past reveal worn coats of red paint. On a reclaimed wood table sits an enormous birdcage with no feathered creature in sight. I looked around just in case because the notion that an avian of extreme proportions might be perched somewhere in the darkened corners left me feeling all Tippi Hedren.
Grant Michael Industrial Antiques & Obscurities in Southeast Portland is a cross between a vintage store, a colorized Alfred Hitchcock movie, and a junkyard favored by eccentric hoarders on a purge.
“My dad used to pick up scrap metal, old Coke machines, gas station signs, things like that,” says Grant Michael Chisholm. “He just had a regular route and I used to go along with him when I was kid.”
The young Grant Michael took to the business, buying and selling old toys by age 10.
“I had a little store in my basement,” he says. “I’d take people down there and sell them stuff.”
By his teens, he was providing merchandise to several Portland antique stores.
“I’m like an old-time junker compared to most,” he says.
His competitors, he says, typically buy from auctions, online ads, and thrift stores but “I’m really seeking it out like old-time pickers.”
That’s where the fun is, as far as he’s concerned, so he’ll buy up an entire estate just to sort trash from treasure, or knock on a stranger’s doors to ask about the junk on their porch, or go poking around the dusty attics of people he meets.
An autoposy table, a 1930s era stage light from a theatrical company, and what “looks like could be a prison door.”
“It was a real odd situation,” he says of this particular find. “The guy had an attic above his café and we started digging through his attic, and he had a yard a few blocks away.”
Of course, not every find is a good one.
“I bought a clown car one time,” he says describing a tiny German import with doors that opened in a totally impractical manner. He could imagine it as the centerpiece in a quirky restaurant. “I offered it to one of my clients and he literally laughed me out of his parking lot.”
He's had far more hits than misses. He says he recently sold several pieces for commerical use in restaurants and offices, and has rented and sold pieces to two television series shot in Portland. After years of dealing wholesale Grant Michael decided to get back to his retail roots and opened the Portland shop about three months ago.
"I used to sell to (fancy) shops and come back to my place, which was more like a storage facility, and it was so depressing," he says. “This gives me the opportunity to show the public what I have to offer in design."Like the benches made from old car jacks, and light fixtures made from the shells of old outboard motors. He's not giving the stuff away but he does wheel and deal. The wire dinosaur is priced at $7,000. Benches start at about $1,000. A tripod lamp recently sold for about $2,200.
"I’m a success story, I think, coming up from absolutely nothing," he says. His grew up in the Lents neighborhood. Some of his family still live there, while others have moved further out on the east side to a trailer park.
"My dad was a junker. He taught me stuff," he says, "And some stuff I just picked up."
Vivian McInerny is the managing editor for Oregon Home.
Grant Michael Industrial Antiques & Obscurities
109 S.E. Salmon Street, Portland, OR
Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.