The Vintage Queens:
Courtney Wagner and Candy Olsen of Storage Wars New York

By Mike McLeod
Posted April 2014

Perhaps you are one of the 2.9 million people who have watched Courtney Wagner and Candy Olsen on A&E’s Storage Wars New York bid on and buy storage lockers while styling in vintage attire and high heels. Needless to say, they make quite a contrasting design statement in comparison to the other New Yorkers on the show vying for potential treasures in abandoned lockers. In addition to the show, Courtney and Candy are the proprietors of C&C Pop-Up Shop, a traveling vintage boutique, and they were dealers for the first time at Brimfield in 2013.

Courtney Wagner and Candy Olsen.

 

How did you two become the queens of vintage that you are?
Courtney: I think I can speak for both of us when I say we were “born this way.” I first started shopping in vintage clothing stores in high school. Mostly because I couldn’t afford to dress like the cool kids. I figured if I can’t fit in, I might as well stand out. Once vintage shopping becomes part of who you are, you naturally begin to learn more about the design influences of the time and the craftsmanship. It’s still about being unique; I don’t think that’s a design trend that will ever change.
Candy: For me, it all started with my parents. They are both so completely independent in every way, and their courage and stubbornness helped me form my own tastes and desires. My mom specifically showed me the value and thrill of shopping secondhand. It was so much fun digging and finding the fabric, buttons and styles I’d never seen before. I can remember going to secondhand stores, thrift stores and flea markets since the age of five.

Your website (www.cncpopupshop.com) describes your business as: “…a mobile and roaming pop-up shop of vintage and up-cycled finds. With the Banana Van as their trusty ride, Candy Olsen and Courtney Wagner are two Brooklyn girls with an obsession for odd, eclectic and vintage. Finding their treasures in storage lockers, estate sales and along the streets of the city, bringing them to different locations around the 5 boroughs.”

How long have you been doing pop-up sales, and how was the idea for the business conceived?
Candy: I’m gonna defer to my partner in crime here because the name of our biz was all her.
Courtney: Initially, we couldn’t afford to open a brick-and-mortar shop so this was our way of starting a business with little to no initial investment. Our very first sale was in the back of a restaurant that a friend of ours was running. They let us pop-up for the whole weekend without a vendor fee. We sort of “shared” customers. They’d come for brunch, and the staff would say, “Hey, make sure you check out the boutique in the back,” or they’d come to shop and we’d say, “This restaurant has the most amazing cocktails.” We have been very fortunate to have friends that are willing to share the wealth, and we’ve been doing pop-up sales for about two years now.

Without a store, Courtney and Candy do pop-up
sales out of the banana van around New York City.

An inlaid gaming table like this one was found near Courtney’s home; it opened to display a chess board. (Photo, courtesy of Denham’s.)

Tell me about an interesting item you have picked up off the streets of New York City.
Courtney:
We found an antique game table near my house once. The top opened to reveal an inlaid chessboard. Under the board was a drawer lined in silk, and the whole thing was on porcelain wheels. One of the legs had broken, which is why it was in the trash, but I nailed and sanded that sucker back together, and we sold it—probably for much less than it was worth, but hey, that’s the game sometimes.

If you went to Rome, would you pick up a vintage item off the street there? Or maybe I should ask, have you ever picked up a vintage item off the street while vacations or traveling?
Candy: In all my travels, 100% of the time whenever there’s a free day or few hours, I spend it going to the local thrift, vintage and antique stores. I’ve traveled all over the United States, parts of Canada, Europe a few times and Japan. And little pieces of all those places always come home with me. For a long time, I hunted ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s Swarovski crystal necklace and bracelet sets. But an addiction to purses and unique vintage dresses and pieces keeps my closets overflowing still.

A few of my most prized possessions from afar would be a leather coat I picked up at a thrift store in La Louviere, a tiny French town in Belgium, in 2002. It’s navy blue with two small pockets in front and for only $13! I’ve sewn it back together probably like ten times at least because it’s my most treasured jacket. And most recently, I brought home from Kyoto, Japan, an old Japanese Nikka whiskey bottle with a miniature ship inside, a 1950’s Bakelite glasses case and an old Japanese lacquered container from the ‘40s.
Courtney: Anytime I’m traveling, the FIRST thing I do (once I’m in my hotel) is Yelp the local vintage stores. That said, I can’t recall ever picking something up off the street, not that I’m above it. Maybe Europeans are just better at their garbage systems.
Candy: If you’re referring specifically to picking stuff up off the street, I have a very strange collection of items I’ve picked up while walking the globe. A potpourri of things people have dropped by accident. It’s very eclectic, and most of it is miniature and broken, which makes me love it more.

Courtney and Candy had a great time selling at
Hertan’s Antique Show at Brimfield in 2013 and
are returning in 2014.

The ladies clean out the storage lockers and haul off the stuff without the help of the TV crew—while suitably attired, of course, as Candy demonstrates here.

Last fall, you two popped up at Brimfield at Hertan’s Antique Show. What was that like as a first-time experience? I heard that you camped out and grilled out.
Candy:
If you sell antiques or vintage, you may understand that days can be slow, and that it’s a very self-motivated business, which can be hard day after day. But being at Brimfield is like taking an entire season or year of selling and condensing it down to a few days—6 a.m. to 6 p.m. super-concentrated selling and working. It’s amazing! There’s a sense of purpose, excitement and camaraderie much like what I imagine a traveling circus or show feels like. Love, love, loved those four days! And camping, well that’s one of my favorite things to do. The smell of the campfire, staying up, laughing and talking into the wee hours, so relaxed because you know the next day all you have to do is literally roll right out of your sleeping bag, and you are right where you need to be.
Courtney: Brimfield was so much fun; I can’t wait to go back!

So let’s say Architectural Digest knocks on your doors one day to do a photo shoot of your apartments. What will they write about your home décor design?
Candy:
Oooooh, that’s hard. But I think they might say my tiny studio apartment reminds them of a fruit cup salad with all the color! It’s imaginative and super eclectic. I’ve got a lot of art, knick-knacks and things I’ve picked up, lots of stories.
Courtney: I like to refer to my apartment as masculine with a feminine influence. When my husband and I decided to move in together, I thought this would be the easiest way to transition him from his bachelor pad. I bought furniture and collected things with a masculine feel so he wouldn’t feel like he was living in an Anthropologie store (a super feminine vintage-feeling chain store that is also online). There are still some feminine accents. We have a dress form and a chandelier in our living room, but there are also guitars on the wall and a concrete coffee table.

Candy: My bathroom is probably my favorite room
in the apt because it's so large by New York standards.
The linen cabinet is actually a ‘50s kitchen cabinet.
The mirror and the white washed shelf are street finds.

Candy’s Apartment: The old school hockey game I fished out of the trash at the end of my street from an old bodega that was being renovated into a restaurant. I saw it and immediately pictured it vertical on my wall

How did you two meet?
Candy: Good story! We met doing Carousel at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. She was in the chorus as a singer, and I was a dancer in the chorus.
Courtney: Yeah, they used to have these Encore-type musicals (i.e., only runs for one weekend), and we were both cast in them for two summers in a row. Then several years later, a mutual friend introduced us, and I was like, “I already know you!”

You were both raised in southern California and grew up to be dancers. Tell me a little about your careers as dancers.
Candy:
I looooove performing in any venue or genre and have been dancing and doing theater since I was five, but it became very clear to me when I was about 16 that what I really wanted was to be a professional ballet dancer. So right out of high school, I moved to New York City and started studying at The Joffrey Ballet.

Since then, I've traveled all over the world with different shows singing, acting, and dancing on pointe, in jazz shoes and heels. I've gotten to work with the best dancers and choreographers in the world, including Celine Dion. Ballet still is and will forever be my first love. I like to take a class a few times a week along with yoga, and I take dance work when it doesn’t interfere with C&C business.
Courtney: Whoa, whoever told you I was a dancer was sadly mistaken. I may have sung quite a bit before I took up drinking and smoking, but dancing was never my strong suit.

How did you get started buying storage lockers?
Courtney: We were buying and selling vintage in Brooklyn as a hobby and creative outlet (and to make some extra cash) when Storage Wars came calling. They were like, “Would you want to go to these auctions?” and we said, “Hell, yeah!” We’re up for any challenge.

What has been unexpected about being on a TV show?
Candy: I think for this show specifically the most unexpected thing was how difficult it actually was every day.
Courtney: Yeah, the challenge is that we have to deal with the contents of the lockers immediately. Most facilities will only give you 48 hours to clean out a room, and we’re with the production team 30-40 hours a week outside of that. We were also buying storage lockers every week so we ended up with a lot more merchandise then a normal auction buyer would take on in that time frame, and we hardly had time to sell anything.

When I watch any of the Storage Wars shows, I have assumed TV crew members help the buyers pack up and haul stuff away. Do you have help?
Candy:
Ha-ha, the simple answer is no. It’s just us and at times a friend, Courtney's husband Joe or a fellow mover we’ve coerced into helping us for pennies.
Courtney: Candy and I are professional movers now.

People always want to know what your best find ever has been.
Candy:
We found what originally looked like an old-fashioned portable massage table but turned out to be a traveling Victorian Era embalming table.
Courtney: I thought it was a therapist’s table.
Candy: Originally, it was worth quite a pretty penny, but then we found it, there was a bit of water damage. We still made a great profit off our find.
Courtney: Creepy, but so interesting!

A traveling Victorian embalming table like this one that folded down into a handy carry case.
(Photo, courtesy of Justina Beck.)

 What will you tell your future children or the odd magazine editor who calls you in 50 years for an interview about Storage Wars New York?
Candy: I would tell them that it was one of the best and hardest challenges I had had at that point in my life. An incredible opportunity I would never have passed up. And wholeheartedly, that it was a complete loop de loop blast!

What fashion or decorating advice do you have for those who love vintage or for those who may hesitate to wear it?
Courtney:
For you decorators and collectors out there, buy stuff you love! You’re curating your life, and your life’s story can be told in the objects and pieces you surround yourself with. For those of you that are hesitant to wear vintage, don’t be! If you stop and think about the process and craftsmanship that went into garments of days past, you’ll never shop at a chain store again.
Candy: That’s the proof of a great antique or vintage piece. It’s still here today because it was that well made to begin with. Antiques and vintage clothes can be like an exclamation point in an ordinary world. Whether it be a silk top from the ‘40s, a tailored blazer from the ‘50s, or a signed brooch from the ‘20s, each piece is unique and the beginning of a great story. It’s the opportunity to reinvent your own story and to signal to the rest of the world your individuality and bravery.

Old art and antiques can also be a sort of looking glass at the past. They tell a different story and usually one that the owner relates to. Something that reminds one of their grandpa, someone they love, where they grew up, or their favorite childhood vacation spot. Aren’t we all nostalgic for the carefree times when we were kids? The love of someone we don’t get to be around anymore? Well, these objects create a little bit of that with their own history, shape and smell. As well as being, at times, the center of someone’s home and being the accent that makes it all come together just right.

Candy’s Apartment: The Homemade Candy sign a good friend and fellow seller gifted to me while we were in Brimfield last September.

Candy’s Apartment: The shelves I found while junking and are actually all doors from different pieces of furniture.

Do you see yourselves dancing off into the sunset or continuing to put new locks on storage locker doors?
Courtney: If I had a genie, I’d ask that C&C be given a retail store and design studio. I’m interested in taking our aesthetic and creative sensibilities to the next level. I’d like the shop to be a place of inspiration for others where we hold DIY classes and events. I’d also like to be able to rent out our better finds for photo shoots, videos, movies and weddings. I want C&C Pop-Up Shop to be the go-to place for all your creative needs.
Candy: Oh, I definitely see us dancing off into the sunset!

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You may shop C&C Pop-Up Shop at http://cncpopupshop.com and contact them and read their blog through the website. Social media masters that they are, you may also follow them on Twitter (@cncpopupshop) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/CnCpopupshop). 

 

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