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Salvage business fills empty niche in Mississippi

RIDGELAND — One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

It’s an adage by which Elizabeth Jackson lives.

Jackson has turned a life-long love of “treasure hunting” into a thriving business, Back Road Architectural Salvage Services Inc., that’s filled a niche in Mississippi.

“I think I’ve always been a scavenger at heart,” Jackson said. “My father owned a construction company in Philadelphia and would bring back all this neat, old stuff to his warehouse that he had gotten from his projects, and I just loved it!”

Jackson, a commercial real estate broker, knew she wanted to turn her love of vintage building materials and historical architecture into a business one day. Some 12 years ago, she called the owner of The Bank, one of the larger architectural salvage businesses in New Orleans, to see what she could learn from him about the business.

“I learned that 40% of his business came from Mississippi,” she said. “After that conversation, I was determined that I wanted to do this someday, so when my husband, Charles (Jackson), retired, I said ‘You’ve got some time on your hands — lets do it!’ and we dove in.”

Their first project was to pull up the heart pine and maple flooring in downtown Jackson’s S.N. Thomas & Sons building, which was being renovated by a local architectural firm to serve as offices for the firm and other tenants.

“Bob Canizaro, the architect who purchased the building, gave us three weeks to get as much as we could. We incorporated, hired a guy to help us with the removal and started the business,” Jackson said.

That was in April 2000, but Back Road Architectural Services was in its infancy and only doing business by word-of-mouth. That was mostly out of necessity, as Jackson, with the help of husband Charles, worked hard to build up their 4,000-square-foot warehouse’s inventory.

“We spent a good bit of the first year harvesting, and we didn’t do any advertising,” she said. “People heard about us and came. Then, a doctor’s wife who heard about us came in and bought everything, and we had to start over!”

Fortunately for Jackson, building up inventory is most of the fun.

“We search. We take road trips to look for property that’s about to fall down, then contact the owners and offer to take it down in exchange for the rights to salvage the materials,” she said. “Sometimes, we hear about places through word-of-mouth. We do most of the salvage work ourselves. It’s very time-consuming and very, very hard work.”

Perhaps that’s why Back Road Architectural Salvage Services has little, if any, competition in Mississippi. Most business people who deal in vintage materials do so “flea market style”, says Jackson, but none are actively doing it on a large-scale basis.

There is a definite market for the products, however. Jackson says her clientele includes a wide variety of decorators, builders, architects and landscape architects. She also sells to hobbyists, artists, people in the process of renovating or building their homes and the merely curious.

Currently, her inventory includes such items as pedestal and porcelain sinks, vintage light fixtures, stained glass and old windows, glass block, glass door knobs, heart of pine flooring and trim, mantels, shutters, columns, beams and lots of doors. A walk through the store even revealed a 14-foot long church pew, an altar rail from a Catholic church in Lexington and an old piano.

Purchase any of these items and Jackson can provide its in-depth history.

“That’s big in Mississippi,” she said. “People like to know where this stuff came from, so when they are having friends over, they can say, ‘This came out of such and such a place and has this and that history.’ That’s part of the fun of having it.”

Apparently, people are into acquiring such history today. Jackson is already in negotiations to lease a warehouse adjacent to Back Road’s current site that will nearly double the store’s inventory capacity. She is also working on a business deal with someone in the demolition business that would allow her to recover and sell anything salvageable.

“It’s important to me to preserve this history and it’s good for the environment to keep it out of the landfills,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of people are beginning to feel the same way. They seem to have a newfound appreciation for things that are quickly disappearing, and are beginning to realize the quality of stuff that was produced years ago isn’t being produced anymore.”

“Pine trees aren’t allowed to grow long enough to become good, old hard pine with beautiful colors, and the quality of construction and craftsmanship is not there anymore,” she continued. “I believe people are wanting to reacquaint themselves with history and to achieve a more creative, individualized look for their homes after living through the cookie-cutter housing years of the 1970s and ‘80s.”

Jackson advises customers to call before coming to Back Road Architectural Salvage, as she may be out harvesting more inventory — such as the wealth of vintage materials from a 200-year-old house in Lexington, one of the town’s first, which she is slowly and lovingly taking apart piece by historic piece.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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