Whoa Nellie Upcycled Store opens in Downtown Brookings

By: Eric Sandbulte, The Brookings Register

Through the years, Rebecca Lafferty has picked up and put to good use many different skills, ranging from woodworking to welding, and since January, she’s been learning yet another new thing: being a store owner.

Her store, Whoa Nellie, features a range of repurposed, upcycled materials she’s made. In her store, located at 315 Main Ave. in downtown Brookings, visitors can find wall clocks made from pallets, chairs with a pickax footrest and a host of other furnishings and décor items.

“That’s what you live for: the next project that gets you excited,” she said as she showed off her assortment of projects.

One of the larger pieces in her store is a pump organ taken from an old farm granary. It wasn’t in good shape from its storage there, either, as it was blanketed in debris.

Everything was still there, though. As she worked on it, she found that the wood was still solid; now it looks better than ever. She installed lights in it and transformed the old organ into a wine bar.

Next to that is an old suitcase has a new life as a side table, and an old sewing machine table is now a half-bath vanity.

Thanks to one of her and her husband’s newer toys, a plasma cutter, she’s able to cut shapes into metal. With that tool, she has a pair of saws that have the blades cut into the outlines of a tree.

She’s always been handy with power tools.

“I do OK cooking and I do OK with a house, but (it’s better) if you ask me to do electrical work or plumbing or drywall or pour cement or break horses,” she said. “In fact, my husband doesn’t know how lucky he is because I buy a lot of tools that he drools over. I buy them and use them and he gets to use them, too. I mean, that’s very unusual in a relationship.”

Lafferty has an eye for these kinds of things, seeing a new purpose in rusty or discarded things.

“It’s a matter of taking things and just looking at them differently. You just have to be willing to look at them differently. And that’s what I do. A good repurposer is going to take things and look at them differently than other people do,” she said.

She has a host of different places that frequently give her her next project. She’s gotten a few pieces at Bargains on Main and during past curbside pickups during Brookings’ spring cleanup. Auctions are a reliable place, too.

“We always sing ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ theme on our way home because that’s exactly what my truck looks like 90 percent of the time when we go home from an auction,” she said.

Her husband, Rod, who she’s been married to for 32 years, taught her how to weld and has helped her out with Whoa Nellie. Especially when it comes time to travel for shows, which is where Whoa Nellie got its start, Rod was key to her being able to get things moved and set up.

Of course, him teaching her how to weld has backfired on occasion. 

In one corner of the store is a coatrack, with bent railroad spikes with which to hang clothes. To cap off the top of the coatrack, however, she used a ball hitch, or part of it anyways. The only problem was that Rod wasn’t done with it yet and wondered where it had disappeared to.

“I think it was one of his extra ones, but he went looking and I had already welded it on,” Lafferty said.

As with a lot of these kinds of stores, the idea is an evolution of what used to be standard practice for folks: reusing something in new ways. For Lafferty, this was a way to be creative and relax from her day job of agricultural marketing for 12 farms.

“I have a stressful job,” she said. “So I can go out to the shop or out to the other buildings we have where I either paint or do woodworking or whatever. I can go out there and just let it all go, and this is the result of it.”

From there, she began to sell her completed projects at art shows.

The name of their business came about by accident. Back on their farm, where they care for rescue horses, including one named Nellie, she and a friend were deliberating what to name the little business.

“I’m focused on the horse, and she’s dancing around, and this person came up behind me and asked, ‘What are we going to call this new business?’ I was focused on the horse and said, ‘Whoa, Nellie.’ That was it. That was how it got named, and it stuck,” she said.

But it’s a lot of work attending art shows, and it was getting to be too much of a hassle for what was always intended to be a fun hobby.

“I was exhausted last year. I said I can’t keep up this pace anymore. So we’re going to try this shop and see. So far, we’re doing really well and I’m surprised,” Lafferty said.

Store hours are 10-5 on Fridays and Saturdays or whenever the “Open” sign is lit. Their phone number is 605-690-0246, and Lafferty encouraged people to check out their Facebook page.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at esandbulte@brookingsregister.com.

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