Hobby turns into a thriving business

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Chocowinity native Greg Purser has loved antique furniture and decorative items of yesteryear for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve always wondered where things came from, the kind of home they were in,” Purser said. “I love knowing the history of where pieces came from and why all these things are being auctioned.”
After living away from Beaufort County, Purser, accompanied by his business partner Everett Duncan, moved back to Chocowinity. They opened their first shop there in the fall of 1999.
“Bernard Winfield owned an antique store when I was a child, and he gave us a lot of the ends and outs of running the business,” Purser recalled. “He used to say that he never made a lot of money at it, but he furnished three houses and made a lot of friends.”
Duncan, who enjoys restoring old furniture, and Purser decided to take the plunge and open a small retail shop. It’s a decision they haven’t regretted, according to Purser.
“We did surprisingly well,” he recalled. “We grew within the first six months and expanded the store, and we began carrying interior design materials, home accessories and lamps.”
Purser said the venture “started out as a hobby that turned into a business.” He and Duncan attend estate sales and auctions as often as they can, always on the lookout for eye-catching items to add to the shop’s inventory.
“Everett does the bidding and I nudge him when something comes across that I like,” Purser said with a smile.
The pair opted to move to downtown Washington after a few years, but they kept the Chocowinity location up and running for a time, too. The Purser’s Chest opened on Market Street in Washington, and they operated Decorating with Cents for a while, until they decided to combine the two. At one point, they also ran Mainly Antiques, before combining everything under The Purser’s Chest name.
The most recent move took them farther west along Main Street, where they opened the new store last October. That location covers about 5,000 square feet, Purser said.
“We’ve enjoyed being downtown, and we’ve always had a good response from the first day we opened,” he said. “Decorating is beginning to pick up again, and we have new things coming in all the time. We try to display things to give people an idea of what they would look like in their homes.”
Local customers have responded well to the business, and customers make the treks from Greenville and Raleigh, as well.
“We’ve had a lot of faithful customers that have stuck with us through the years,” Purser said.
Along with the traditional inventory found at The Purser’s Chest, Duncan and Purser expanded to include an art gallery and vendors’ market.
There are several booths with a variety of antiques, and that area of the store also offers handmade children’s dresses and hair bows, pet accessories, duck decoys, collectibles and estate jewelry, including one-of-a-kind and vintage pieces.
The main section of The Purser’s Chest remains devoted to antiques, home accessories and interior-design items. Along the way, Geary Winstead joined the firm after working for Miller’s in Columbia, S.C.
“I’ve been a designer since 1971, and I’ve done work all over the world,” said Winstead, who grew up in Washington. “I enjoy working with people and trying to introduce them to new ideas and giving them a new direction in design.”
Joining Purser, Duncan and Winstead in the venture are members of their sales staff, including Kay Radford, Marge Willis and Joann Ingersoll. For Ingersoll, joining The Purser’s Chest staff is a dream come true.
“I was a customer at the Chocowinity shop,” she said. “This is a good place to go down memory lane. And everybody is a friend, nobody is a stranger.”
The Purser’s Chest is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.