Elizabeth Aleckson

A love for vintage spawns a small virtual empire.

Elizabeth Aleckson

We all have our extracurriculars, but how many of us can say we’ve left a steady job for one?

Elizabeth Aleckson knew it was risky. “I have this habit of turning my hobbies into jobs,” says the owner of five online vintage shops: Expo Facto and Heritage 1956, as well as shops Folding Chairs, Heritage 1956, and Olsen Vintage Market. The plucky entrepreneur, who once was an aspiring performance pianist, admits, “Things don’t always work out.”

But this time things did. Aleckson, who formerly worked in merchandising for Merz Apothecary in Chicago, moved back to the Twin Cities five years ago with her husband, Luke. The couple purchased a house in north Minneapolis and rehabbed it themselves, furnishing it with Aleckson’s vintage finds—lots of Hollywood Regency glam mixed in with iconic midcentury pieces.

By 2011, the space was bursting at the seams, so Aleckson decided to offload a few things on Craigslist. Her sales were so well received that she opened Folding Chairs on Etsy in October 2011.

“It’s rare that other people are just as excited about something as you are,” Aleckson says. She gets most of her business from the coasts, with customers swooping in on the Sputnik light fixtures and faux bamboo accessories almost as soon as they post. Folding Chairs led to offshoots: Olsen Vintage Market carries a lot of tabletop, Heritage 1956 focuses on folksy Americana-like wooden crates and weathered nautical flags, and Expo Facto is her Hollywood Regency hub with its coveted brass bar carts and Lucite pieces.

Last summer, Aleckson left her day job to focus on her busy online empire. In a corner office upstairs at home, she makes poufy globe light fixtures out of coffee filters to sell on her sites and fixes up beat-up dressers with fresh coats of lacquer. Then everything gets a dress rehearsal on the main floor.

“Oh, I don’t know if I can get rid of this one,” she teases as she walks through her living room and points to a white and gold marquee letter “E” propped beside a pair of chrome horse bits and a brass lamp—all for sale, of course. “Look, I just got this pair of coral chairs off Craigslist,” she coos, sitting down on one, with its Asian-print bolster pillow and black piping. “Aren’t they so great?”

Aleckson’s collections have captured the attention of interior design mecca One Kings Lane, which vetted her pieces this past spring. She recently hired a part-time employee to help out, since sales could keep her busy from 8 am to 2 am every day. That, she says, might be the only trouble with doing something she really loves: “You can’t shut the door on it.”