Over the past 11 years, Susie Puskedra has given treasure-hunting a whole new meaning for Lower Keys islanders. When a house is sold and the owners need help disposing of the goods inside, Susie’s Key West Estate Sales makes it happen, ultimately recycling everything from fine antique furniture and high-end linens to “a half bottle of Windex.”
And lots of art. This weekend’s estate sale takes place at a house that contains works by Dalva Duarte, Michael Palmer, Sandford Birdsey, Dick Matson and, oddly, me.
The business formula for the sales is always the same, but the inventory is always changing. Last week Puskedra had a house full of art deco and mid-century modern accessories. Two weeks prior, it was 1800s French antiques.
“The woman’s grandmother was an antique dealer in France,” she says. “I was so much in heaven, I didn’t want that sale to end.”
Antiques are part of Puskedra’s DNA. Before moving to Key West from Chicago in 2010, Puskedra was an antiques dealer who owned her own shop — a passion inspired by growing up in her grandparents’ home.
“I lived in a real small town that had farm auctions where somebody’s whole life and a century’s worth of goods would be put out on a hay rack and auctioned off.”
Estate sales provided inventory for her shop and revealed a new direction.
“Conducting estate sales is much more fast-paced and interesting,” she said.
Her team sorts, stages, researches and prices everything left on a property, from furniture and artwork, to clothing, kitchen appliances, Christmas decorations and fishing rods. Then it’s all about advertising — online, in print and on the radio.
“The best part of my job is that I get to wake up in paradise every day, work with my best friends and do something I absolutely love,” she said.
The sales typically take place Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Show up on Friday and get first dibs on the estate items. On Saturdays, items are up to half off. Be prepared to stand in line with up to 125 other eager seekers to peruse the treasures, as Puskedra and her team let several people in as others leave.
“We get a mania going,” she said. “I have been told many times I should write a book, but the things people want to know — the things we’ve seen — I would never get another sale if I told those tales. We are very respectful of our clients’ privacy and quirks. You wouldn’t even believe some of the things, anyway.”
As a reminder, this is no yard sale, so don’t even think about haggling.
“People come up to me and say, “I’ll give you this much,” and I’ll say, “No, no. I put research into this. I set the prices,” Puskedra said.
Like the painting by Vietnamese artist Le Pho that Puskedra sold online for $50,211.
“The owner would have sold that to an interior decorator for $1,000 or $2,000, not knowing what it was worth,” she says. “That’s why you use us.” (Well, that, plus the priceless convenience of taking what you want and walking away, while Puskedra and her team sort, sift, display, and sell everything else.)
Puskedra charges 40% of the final total. But the property owners come out much better than if they tried to do it on their own. And anything left is donated to the Salvation Army. When the trash is taken out, “the house is left empty and broom clean,” she says.
“We crack up when people ask us if we have ‘real jobs’ during the week,” she said (as if inventorying, organizing, pricing and displaying every item in a home happens overnight).
In Puskedra’s “down time,” she raises monarch butterflies and grows orchids, helps run the monthly Girls’ Night Out events, and is a mentor for the Take Stock In Children program.
“It’s one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done,” she says. “I recommend it to anyone who wants to truly make a difference in their own life, as well as someone else’s.”
She also helps raise money for the Scleroderma Foundation each year.
“Our event this year is Feb. 10 at Aqua’s Sidebar and we have some incredible surprise auction gifts. Please join us,” she added.
For Puskedra, Key West’s community of people reminds her of her hometown in Rock Falls, Illinois.
“If you peel back the layers of the tourists, the bars, the many social events and such, this is a very family-oriented, loving community where people actually care about each other. It is a great place to raise children and to grow old.”
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