Q&A: Bull City Vintage Founder Alison Matney talks finding unique pieces and growing up in Durham


Bull City Vintage is a local company founded in October 2020 with roots in curating special and interesting pieces. Their unique pieces have caught the attention of the Durham community and they currently have over 9000 followers Instagram Side.

The Chronicle sat down with founder Alison Matney to talk about her passion for curating, her love for Durham and her upcoming tag sale.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The chronicle: What made you decide to work in the curatorial field?

Alison Matney: It’s kind of funny, I’ve worked in companies for 20 years. When I was young and growing up, I stifled any creativity I had. My parents were great, but they weren’t necessarily in the arts; They were very concerned about getting your weekly paycheck, getting your benefits. That’s how you live your life… I hated the American corporations. Just sitting in a cabin and not knowing if the sun is shining or if it’s raining. The only thing I enjoyed everyday was color coordinating spreadsheets. [At the start of the pandemic,] I wanted to work from home and [the company] said, “That doesn’t work for us.” They offered me a month’s severance pay and said, “If you want to leave, you can.” It was a really strange offer, but I appreciated it. For the first time in my life, I took a really brave step – I exited security. I started working in staging and restyling and I loved it, I learned a lot. [I] spent all summer trying to figure it out. I realized that I always wanted to be an interior designer. I asked myself, “Why am I so scared? So I created an Instagram account, went to a real estate sale, and bought a dresser for $50. I can clean it up and flip it – it will make someone really happy and I will make a profit too. I don’t want to sell to people for a lot of money, I want to sell to people like me who can’t afford really expensive pieces but still love them.

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TC: All of your pieces are so unique. Where do you usually find them?

AM: property sale! I try to find the strangest things… I love old portraits. I really appreciate antiques now. I learned so much from [running Bull City Vintage] and I’m doing something I love and I never thought that would happen. I’m not saying everything is great. I have to rush, but I love the rush. I love to walk and dig and find things even if it’s online. [I love] being able to find something I’ve never seen anyone else sell, or just something I like. I’m not trying to stick to any particular path.

TC: What do you look for in the pieces you curate? Is there a specific theme or aesthetic?

AM: I always want to buy things that are in good condition. If something isn’t, it’s practically a giveaway. I’ve been doing this for two years, so I know what people like. Sometimes I buy pieces that I wouldn’t necessarily have in my house, but I know there’s a huge market for them. But mostly it’s just “Oh cool, I’ve never seen that before.” I’m just trying to find unique pieces that I don’t see every day, but of course I hope to be able to sell them…

TC: Their company finds its namesake in Durham. What makes this city so important for your company?

AM: I think you have to be born here to understand it. It’s almost like “We did it!” Durham was always looked down on, especially by Raleigh. It’s obviously a small town…People tend to move away. Most of the people who live here are not from here. Especially at Duke, the majority of people who live in Durham are not from Durham. For people who are local, it’s almost like a proud thing over time. While I’m not crazy about gentrification, people have started to love it… When I started it was like – Bull City, of course. People will remember! It is only [showing] Proud of my hometown.

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TC: What’s your favorite part about running Bull City Vintage?

AM: The customers, honestly. I’ve had customers from day one who still come and buy from me. I feel so grateful and honored. I wouldn’t be doing what I love without her. [I’m] to buy all these pieces because [I] Love her. [When] they post [I’m] like, “Will anyone else like it?” It always feels good when people say, “Oh my god, I love this!” My followers do too, without them I wouldn’t be where I am. You let me take bold steps.

TC: What is your long-term vision for Bull City Vintage?

AM: I really hope to get a place. I had space for a short time last year. It was nice that people looked at the inventory and developed a more personal relationship with my customers than they did over the internet. Maybe one day I’ll open an auction house – I don’t know of any auction houses in Durham. But actually I just want a shop, a place where I can set myself up. I hope to keep doing what I love and keep loving it.

TC: Do you have any advice for someone who also wants to start a business?

AM: Research, research, research! Even if you think you’ll be super small and won’t need all that, just start organized, [because] Making a plan is really important. I didn’t start out that way, I just jumped in without thinking it was going to be anything. And don’t listen to others either! So many people told me to do different things and I just went with my gut and I’m really glad I did. So many people said you should only do one thing and I just said, “Why? Why do I have to select a track? Why can’t I have all lanes?”

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TC: Is there anything else about the company or your story that you would like to mention?

AM: I will be hosting a tag sale on October 15th from 10am to 4pm. I have lots of inventory. Everything will be… cheap. It will be like selling a property. There will be no auctions, but there will be fantastic deals. And besides, I will say, integrity is everything to me. If I have a customer who isn’t happy, I hope they can have a good experience. I recently had an experience where a customer said, “I feel more compelled to buy from you now than when I bought the piece because of the way you handled it.” I won’t say, ” Oh sorry, you bought it, it’s final.” I mean, that’s my community. I don’t ship anything. Everything stays [local]. I have customers from abroad whose family buys from me and ships to them. I’m just worried about something breaking and I have enough people in the area to sell to. I like to keep things small and down to earth. For me, really everything is to make sure my customers are happy and I will do everything to make sure of that.





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