LS: Junque Man February 15, 2009
For 23 years, William Hill bought and sold everything and the kitchen sink.
As owner of The Junque Man, 175 S. Third St., William, who goes by Bill, spent more than two decades buying stuff people didn’t want and trying to sell everything he bought.
At some point, Bill bought a metal kitchen sink from someone. It’s now propped up near some old space heaters.
The sink may be there for a while.
Bill, 91, officially retired on Jan. 1, because it became more expensive to run The Junque Man than it was to stay home and read National Geographic magazines.
Bill likes to read. He enjoys watching television, too.
Meanwhile, his closed-up store sits filled with who-knows-how-much stuff inside.
“Maybe (I’ll) sell it all at one time to one buyer,” Bill said.
He doesn’t want to open the doors to individual buyers because “it would probably take 300 years” to sell everything.
It is difficult to fathom how packed The Junque Man’s store is.
People walking through the front door are immediately greeted by three sets of golf clubs, hundreds of fishing lures and a rack filled with old Playboy magazines. Bill’s extensive collection dates back more than 35 years.
Walking around the store, they’ll discover thousands of used books, hundreds of old glass canning jars, dozens of old telephones, several plastic lunch boxes and a World War II helmet with the name “Campbell, J.” written on masking tape at the bottom.
That’s just a sample of Bill’s wares. Some aisles inside The Junque Man are easy to navigate.
In other parts of the store, however, a person must shimmy sideways.
“In my 23 years here, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of stuff,” Bill said with a grin. “There’s nothing like a lot of variety.”
And there is nothing like Bill’s wit and sarcasm.
Ask him what is the oldest item in his store.
Ask him if there is anything anyone has brought into his store that he loved so much he took it home instead of selling it.
Bill: “Yeah. Money.”
Bill’s journey to retirement was a long one, mostly because his decision to close the store took years.
When he was 85, Bill scaled back The Junque Man’s operations to three days a week instead of five, but he didn’t retire.
“He likes human contact,” said his son, Bruce Hill. “Owning the store gave him that human contact.”
Bruce operates Superior Alarm, 260 Colorado Ave., next door to The Junque Man.
Bruce is Bill’s younger son. Mark Hill, the older son, lives in Durango.
“I just love the fact he had the store because I got to see him every day,” Bruce said.
The white binders in Bruce’s Superior Alarm office are lined up in order on the shelves. His desk is clean. His organizational skills actually came from his father, he said.
For as much junk as his father has stacked, hung or lined up inside The Junque Man, he knows where everything is, Bruce said.
Bill’s refusal to throw away anything stems from his childhood.
Bill was born in 1917 and watched his father lose the family’s Mississippi cotton plantation during the Great Depression. He remembers seeing food lines of hungry Americans. Bill still has a hint of a Southern accent.
He opened The Junque Man because one person’s junk is truly another person’s treasure, he said.
He moved to Grand Junction in 1955 with his wife Dessie Dell Hill after serving in World War II and the Korean War. Dessie had friends in the Grand Valley.
Initially, Bill worked as an accountant on First Street. He later sold his business and got a real estate license.
Dessie was a school nurse for School District 51. Bill doesn’t remember how long Dessie was a school nurse, but she worked for the district “long enough to retire,” he said.
“He had a passion for my mom,” Bruce said. “She was the leader of our family. ... My mother was 10 times as funny (as my father). They played off each other.”
Bruce remembers his childhood fondly. His parents rarely missed one of his events.
Dessie died of cancer in 2000. She and Bill were married for more than 49 years. Bill still wears his wedding ring.
The first items for sale at The Junque Man were several books from Dessie’s mother. Although Dessie never worked at The Junque Man, it was indirectly because of her that Bill opened the store.
Dessie did not want Bill to bring home anything he bought at Saturday auctions.
“She’d be like, ‘What are you going to do with all this junk?’ ” Bill said.
And the idea for The Junque Man was born.
Dessie allowed her husband to have his collection of unique clothing irons and coins at home, Bruce said.
In fact, coins are one of the few things not visible at The Junque Man, which after 23 years of business has made Bill an icon for his willingness to buy about anything from customers and then turn around and sell it to others.
The shop originally was located on First Street and moved to its current location in 1985 after Bruce hired seven college students to help Bill. The move took a week.
Today, it would probably take seven college students at least a month to move all of Bill’s merchandise.
There is so much stuff packed into the building that the fire department told Bill no one is allowed to be alone on the store’s second floor because it is a fire hazard.
But for every plastic tiara or Donald Duck hat, there is probably valuable antiques or collectible items buried somewhere in The Junque Man.
Bill doesn’t seem to care how much it all could be worth, at least not now.
The orange “Shut” sign is permanently displayed on The Junque Man’s front door.
Bill sleeps in every morning, visits Bruce at work or reads magazines.
And that’s just fine, Bill said.