It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase and a big one at that. In May 2015, Kim Jameson's brother, Kurt Mathews, talked her into going to an auction with him at which the iconic Steely's Corner was being sold. Little did she expect to actually bid on it... and win. "It was totally an unplanned purchase," said Kim, "a sentimental one and which I give full credit (and the blame) to my brother."
The institution, located at 201 E. 9th Street in downtown Columbia, was open for 35 years, offering an assortment of furniture, memorabilia and quite a bit of junk, from floor to ceiling being the norm. "Trash to treasure" was the store's slogan, and many a person delighted in the hunt for the perfect treasure.
The former owner, Brenda Steely Grooms, operated the business with the help of family and friends until her retirement in May of 2015. She provided a brief history of the store, which was originally her childhood home.
"During the time around World War II, brother-in-laws B.R. Norton and Sid Steely formed a produce supply and delivery business. It was housed in several locations around the downtown Columbia area over the years. The Steely family resided at the home located at the corner of East 9th and Woodland Streets.
At some point in time, Mr. Steely expanded the basement area to provide space for freezers and coolers to house the Norton & Steely Produce and Fruit business. Subsequently, the family moved to Hampshire Pike as the family grew to eight children and the business expanded to an additional building in the downtown area. After 1978 and when Mr. Steely retired, the space was used for warehouse and storage space, eventually becoming Steely’s Corner, selling antiques, used furniture and what many of us lovingly call junk.
In terms of the current goods, Kim, who was a Steely's shopper since 1989, is staying true to the original Steely's style. "I like to say the items are used, but not used up. I’m still getting a feel for the things folks want, and it seems furniture is a big seller."
That said, it still has that Steely's feel of trash to treasure, which draws in "old" Steely's customers, but Kim says that she also has folks from out of the area who tell her that Steely’s is an always-stop spot when they come through town.
"One thing is for sure," Kim says with a sense of humor, "they’ve never seen so much of the floors and walls."
I asked Kim how has it been cleaning and organizing the place because frankly anyone who went to Steely's knows why I asked. Kim's answer reveals just how big a job it has been: "One spoonful at a time. Fortunately, I love the art of the dig, so still coming across treasures tickles me. But it was certainly a process - trash, give away, keep, clean - repeat, repeat, repeat... just like home."
So how does Kim decide what to buy and sell? "I love having a reason to head out on an adventure, looking for things that bring me a giggle or a nostalgic twinge - the 'I used to have one, Mom used to have one, Grandma used to have one' kind of feeling.
One criteria is that I have to like it and want to look at it for as long as it’s at Steely’s… and move it no less than 5 times, which seems to be the average," she says. The best part? "It’s really like playing house all day."
Steely's is not Kim's first foray into retail; she had a business called Suite 14 with partner, Jody Ball, for about 5 years. "It was a cooperative space, much like an antique mall. We had a lot of fun and were located on High Street, near the Polk Home," she said.
It's only fitting that Kim's brother, Kurt, is helping her at the store. "I wouldn’t enjoy Steely’s Corner without him on board. He has the best eye, quirkiest sense of humor and is relatively strong, plus his height is a sure plus. Calling him my Creative Director is an understatement because he can also hang a mean curtain and replace light bulbs."
In closing, Kim says, "We are so happy to be 'SO of DOwntown' Columbia and a part of all the fabulous changes taking place around town. We have lots of ideas up our sleeves and hope to continue the tradition Brenda and her family started for many years."
So stop by Steely's Corner, if just to say hello to Kim and Kurt. Although they don't keep regular hours, they are often there on Saturday's from around 10-2. But the best way to find out if they are going to be open is ask a friend around town, or you can check their facebook page by clicking HERE and/or Instagram posts, where the open days and hours are announced.
Don't dawdle as things don't tend to stick around Steely's for very long. In short, go git ya some stuff!