This old chair

In the midst of Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts warehouse district, a stone's throw from the Oak Cliff Coffee House, sits an unusual shop.

It's not the store's collection of lovely antiques that makes it unique, or the relatively low cost of the well-maintained furniture crammed inside, although visitors constantly remark about the bargains.

People in Oak Cliff are talking about the Random to Eclectic antique shop on West Eighth Street because its antiques are available to "rent to own." What's more, the shop charges zero interest on the pieces it sells, and customers have up to a year to pay off the balance.

And the concept is paying off for the owners. Since opening the rent-to-own antique shop three months ago with a small budget and a dream, shopkeepers Tavius Jones and Rob Roe have, in their small way, revolutionized antique shopping. The shop is full of browsers during the three to six hours it is open each day, and furniture often leaves the day it arrives. And because the shop finances its sales, Jones says, it has a steady stream of income.

"Most antique stores have good and bad months," she says. "The rent-to-own (concept) has really helped us because, with the cash flow, we can have a bad month and still survive."

Since opening in late July, Jones and Roe have sold three large bedroom suites, three large dining room sets, four wardrobes and countless individual items.

"It has been a complete success," she says.
Random to Eclectic looks like most unpolished antique stores. Chairs, footstools and other small items lined up on the sidewalk act as lures to passing shoppers. In this case, they drift over from the coffee shop en masse, exclaiming on their good fortune when they learn they can rent the furniture to own. Jones' toddler daughter, Morgan, plays amid the furniture under her mother's watchful eyes as customers browse. Even the postman, letters in hand, can't resist the temptation, and asks Jones to hold a rocking chair for him until he can finish his shift.

Jones says the concept came to her as a result of her other profession. Since moving back to Dallas from New York City four years ago, she had worked as a mortgage loan broker, trying to help low income blacks and other ethnic groups buy their own homes in South Dallas and Oak Cliff. It was a stressful job, she recalls, because underwriters often denied loans to her clients based on credit problems. And when she was successful at getting home loans for her clients, she usually found that they did not have enough money left over to furnish their new American dreams.

Often, the new homeowners would make their way to Jefferson Street, where more than a few furniture rental places proliferate. There, they would rent to own furniture of questionable quality, and pay exorbitant prices for the privilege. "They were going to a lot of rental companies who were charging them 125 percent interest," she says. "You would get a four-piece bedroom suite and they would count a lamp as a piece. We thought, how can you do that to these people? There must be a better way."

Both Oak Cliff residents, Jones and Roe found an inexpensive storefront on Eighth Street and began filling it with antiques they bought from auctions, estate sales, and on consignment. Jones spends most of her time building up the shop; Roe maintains the couple's mortgage brokerage company, MTC Mortgage. They check customer credit at the shop with the same sources they use for the mortgage company.

Random to Eclectic has been enormously rewarding for Jones on several fronts. She is working in her neighborhood, forging ties with other merchants in Bishop Arts and mingling daily with her neighbors. To her, Oak Cliff is the best community in the world; she wouldn't live anywhere else. With its '50s style shopping strips and historical homes, Jones says, her Oak Cliff environment harkens back to kinder, gentler times.

"It's an old-fashioned neighborhood, like when I grew up," she says. "Your kids can be outside and you know that other mR>oR>ms will be watching them, too. It's a real sense of community. A lot of people don't know that about Oak Cliff."

She can't say enough about it, this neighborhood of hers, and feels compelled to contribute to it. "It's got a great Hispanic mix, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, everything. It's the closest thing to what Dallas should be and what Dallas should work for. No one is doing the flight thing; we are all building the neighborhood. I think it's just great."

The small shop also gives her time to be with her three children, ages 3, 6, and 7-- something she found in short supply when she worked exclusively in mortgage brokering. She can close the shop if she has to take a child to cheerleading class, and has the freedom to attend all their activities. "There is no stress," she says happily. "I'm so excited. I can be a mom." And, she says, store sales pay the monthly rent the first week of the month.

So far, she has seen the benefits of the rent-to-own concept in dozens of cases. She visited the home of one Random to Eclectic customer.

"It was one of the most nicely furnished homes," she says. "And their payments are spectacular. Now, they are able to come in and purchase through rent-to-own without a deposit."

And Random to Eclectic has already captured the imagination of at least one investor. "I think she's invented an industry," says Richard Pennington, an Allen businessman trying to talk Jones into opening a rent-to-own antique shop in Plano. "There are lots of rent-to-own places, but none that rent to own antiques. The Dallas market should have 10 rent-to-own antique shops."

As far as 26-year-old Tavius Jones is concerned, she is in a win-win situation. Life is good in Oak Cliff. And she wants to see more of her antiques in more homes in her neighborhood. "We wouldn't trade it for the world," she says. "And we'd like to become big.


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