Co-owners Christopher Lancette and Won-ok Kim were already having fun selling all kinds of treasures as a hobby when a light bulb went off: What would it look like if Orion’s Attic focused not just on making a living but on making a difference?
The question sparked a new vision for themselves as social entrepreneurs dedicated to building a better company and a better community … a firm that enables people to “buy good stuff, do great things.”
That mantra runs through everything Orion’s Attic does, from selling antiques and collectibles and hosting estate sales to conducting fundraisers and making charitable contributions to great nonprofits. The company also buys out the contents of homes, special collections and even storage lockers.
The primary focus of the Attic’s philanthropic work now is lending a hand to the House With A Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary. The nonprofit organization in Gaithersburg, Maryland, provides a loving home and medical services to abandoned old dogs (and some cats) whose lives are nearing an end. The Attic chose House With A Heart to honor the memory of the company's namesake, Orion -- Lancette's shelter-rescued Siberian husky who passed away in 2007. We also honor the memory of Alexis, Orion’s half-husky shelter-rescued sister who served as the company’s spokesdog until she died in 2012.
“Aligning the company with our personal values makes running the business a more fulfilling experience for us,” says Lancette, an Atlanta native who led successful careers in journalism and in nonprofit communications before climbing into the Attic. “Selling just to make a profit would get boring pretty quickly. Now we’re on a mission to build a better company and contribute to a better community.”
“It’s a neat feeling to see satisfied customers purchase things they like so much that they’re going to display them in their homes or offices,” says Kim, a data analyst for a Washington hospital. Originally from Korea, she became a U.S. citizen in 2010. “It’s even more exciting to know we’re helping organizations that are doing critical work for society.”
The thrill of the hunt is a blast, too.
While most people kick back and relax after work and on the weekends, Lancette and Kim spend most of their free time earning bumps and bruises from moving all the furniture and boxes of new items they scour the roads to find. They hit auctions, yard sales, estate sales and some hidden honey holes to do their picking – as seen on TV shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Cash & Cari, Auction Kings, Auction Hunters and Storage Wars.
“Our general rule is that we won’t buy anything that we wouldn’t want to keep if we can’t sell it,” Lancette says.
He’s drawn to anything related to American history, antique chairs, art, spunky used furniture including what he and Kim refurbish themselves, mancave stuff and about anything with an animal on it. Kim, meanwhile, loves art glass, figurines, pottery, lamps, costume jewelry, tea pots, china and more. “If it’s something that lights up our imaginations and the price is right, we’ll grab it,” Kim says.
From a pair of binoculars whose history goes back through a
Another is the people they encounter.
“The people we’re meeting are incredible,” Lancette says. “We meet folks with amazing stories to tell about what they made or bought and clients from every walk of life who have passions for different items.” (You’ll see a lot of their stories on the Orion’s Attic blog and on video as they enhance their Web site.)
When they’re not working, you can most often find the Attic’s owners on the tennis court or a minor league baseball game.
“It takes us three hours to get to a game one hour away,” Kim adds. “We can’t help but stop at every yard sale and thrift store we pass. The business has become kind of an addiction.”
Nonprofit organizations can only hope that’s one addiction that science and therapy won’t cure.
Everyone at Orion’s Attic wears our values on our sleeves (especially when wearing our spiffy black t-shirts and hoodies). Six values in particular summarize our approach to business and to the world.
Our success generates income for ourselves, our clients, entrepreneurs that we nurture, companies we partner with, service providers and stores where we spend money. We provide employment and training for local teenagers. We raise and donate funds and goods for nonprofit organizations. We contribute tax revenue to the county, state and country. We practice economic stewardship and conservation by re-selling old items and rescuing countless objects that would otherwise go to a landfill, re-purposing outdated items and recycling raw materials.
“Orion’s Attic – what a great name for your business,” people tell me and Won-ok Kim all the time.
Orion was also the name of the world’s greatest dog.
I first met the Siberian husky in the winter of 1997 while writing an article about the Gwinnett County Animal Control Shelter back home in
I was 29 at the time and only really beginning to grow from a boy to a man. He was a few years old and had been severely abused by his previous owner. He likely would have been put to sleep if I hadn’t adopted him. I named him Orion, after the constellation I had admired since I was a teenager. There was something celestial about the husky’s spirit and the name just seemed to suit him. He and I looked up at the constellation on winter nights, me thinking deep thoughts and Orion thinking mostly about squirrels.
The vets told me if I could keep him still and relaxed, it could help break the cycle. I remember finding blankets for him and holding him until he fell asleep ... while the cold and cement sent pains shooting through my own limbs until sunrise. I remember thinking that was the first time I had truly understood what it meant to put another being's needs before my own ... to be committed to the happiness and well-being of another.
That was just the first of many lessons Orion taught me.
I gained a lot more knowledge in the decade we spent together. I learned more about how to treat people from him than I did anyone else in my life except my parents. He had a gift for seeing all people without bias or fear. He would encounter a person suffering from elephant man syndrome and treat him like he was the most beautiful man in the world. At assisted living centers, Orion was the only living being who somehow communicated with residents straddled with dementia. Their eyes lit up like stars when he came around.
There wasn’t a man, woman or child whose face he couldn’t put a smile on. Naturally, I became putty in his paws.
I sobbed for weeks when he died and still miss him terribly. (His adopted sister, a shelter-rescued half-husky named Alexis, is still with us – serving as our official spokesdog.) In the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey learns that an angel gets its wings every time a bell rings. I’d like to believe canines earn such honors, too. That’s why Orion’s Attic makes a charitable donation to a worthy cause every time the cash register rings.
The philanthropy is even more rewarding in the winter when Won-ok and I can look up at the stars, see the constellation and wink at the spirit of the world’s greatest dog.
Orion’s Attic is a multi-faceted company that
- Hancock Antiques Mall in Hancock, MD (ask for the “ORIO” section)
- Old Glory Antique Marketplace in Frederick, MD (section J-5)
- Sage Consignment in Kensington, MD
- Copper Fox Antiques in Sperryville, VA