The “Death Ridge” settled over Thomasville the week of the Chartreuse Barn sale. As Paula and Steve Lynam prepared for their monthly, three-day shoppers’ spectacle, the dramatically named heat wave stretched from Alabama to Virginia, bringing mid-90s temperatures and no hint of rain, much less the slightest breeze. Yet, despite the wearying temperature, cars roll into the parking lot at 9 a.m. sharp, leaving trails of dust lingering in the still air. Even this early, the short walk from the parking lot to the barn is long enough to break a sweat. The usually welcoming Chartrooster — a multicolored, scrap-metal rooster perched just outside the barn — quickly becomes too hot to touch.
But inside, the heat is already an afterthought. Instagram-ready arrangements of vintage and repurposed merchandise and folk art fill the barn: on the ground, propped on tables, hung from walls, and even tucked in rafters. Some items are new art pieces, some are retro objects, others are “creatively upcycled.” Everything is for sale, and all of it tells the story of North Carolina: an old, leather mule bridle that traded its practical purpose for a decorative one; a 1920s school desk that vendor Gene Foust rescued from a 130-year-old Randolph County cabin before it was demolished; a tobacco basket, just like the one that shopper Pamela Sharpe used as a young girl on her family’s farm. And a mysterious metal box, half a century old, that a puzzled young boy is peering into.
“Do you know what that is?” vendor Laura Johnson asks the boy. “People used to keep those boxes in their kitchens to store their bread in, to keep it fresh.”
The little boy glances up at Laura, as if she’s conning him, then looks inside the box again. Sure enough, it’s big enough to hold a loaf of bread. “Cool!” he says, but soon he’s distracted by another treasure in this pop-up shop of flea market finds.
That old bread box might be the only thing cool about this 96-degree day, Paula points out. The Lynams laugh at the coincidence of another barn sale during extreme weather. These sales tend to coincide with some of the most inconvenient weather this town sees: downpours, big winds, snowstorms, withering heat. They call this meteorological phenomenon “the barn sale effect.” The worst of it came in 2017 with the remnants of Hurricane Irma.
“We had tin blowing around, and we had to nail it to the roof during the sale,” Steve says. “But I promise you, people kept coming and shopping, even during that hurricane. There must be something here other than the old stuff we’re selling.”
“This is my happy place. My girlfriends and I call it ‘barn therapy.’”
That something is the barn itself — and the community of vendors inside. Five years ago, when Paula and Steve started Chartreuse, they hoped to create a place where people could find a little inner peace, along with an antique typewriter or dining table. And their idea worked. Now, when customers and vendors talk about why they come to the barn sales, they use words not often applied to shopping experiences: “peaceful,” “uplifting,” “caring.” But of course, not many shopping experiences include a chapel.
Behind the barn sits a rustic chapel that the Lynams created from an old tractor shed. This space is available to anyone who seeks a few moments of quiet, and a stop here has become part of the barn sale experience. During the chapel’s construction, Steve and Paula invited family and friends to write messages on the walls, and now, hidden beneath the new wood panels, are more than 300 blessings. Recent entries in the chapel’s guest book suggest that folks are feeling all those good wishes: “Such a peaceful place!” “What a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.” “Highlight of my week!” “This is my happy place. My girlfriends and I call it ‘barn therapy.’”
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When the Lynams opened the Chartreuse Barn in December 2014 — for only three days each month — they hoped to sell an experience, one that would feel more personal than a typical day of browsing and buying. “We want people to feel loved here,” Steve says. “And we want people to experience beauty and peace and friendship.”
Before Chartreuse, Paula owned a consignment store in Greensboro, but she longed for a shop that would inspire her creativity. She found that being a store owner five days a week didn’t allow enough time for her to pursue artistic projects. One day, a customer told her about barn sales, a concept that began in California and was working its way east. Open just a few days a month, barn sales offer artists time to create new work and owners time to host an event that draws various artists, makers, and vendors from across the community.
Paula and Steve loved the idea, and they began to search for property. They wanted a barn close enough to cities and highways for easy access, but remote enough to offer a country feel. For a year, they had no luck. One day, Steve went to a barn in Thomasville to buy old wood to make tables, and the perfect property found them. “The owner told me, ‘You know, you don’t just have to buy the wood — you can buy the whole barn. We’re selling it,’” Steve recalls. They bought it. The barn’s location, just off of I-85 Business, felt like the perfect spot. The nearly century-old barn was not ready to host sales, though.
“If we show you some ‘before’ pictures, you’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness, it looks like that thing is about to fall down,’” Paula says with a laugh. “But we saw that it had potential — we’ll put it that way.” Some customers followed Paula from her Greensboro store; new vendors joined. The mood became collaborative, not competitive; vendors help with each other’s stalls and shop for each other’s businesses. Soon, the three-day sale felt like a reunion, and the Lynams and their vendors now see themselves as part of a barn family.
“Steve and Paula are the foundation,” vendor Shelly Henning says. “Every time I come, no matter how much craziness there is, Paula steps around the counter, gives me a hug, and asks how my family is doing. Or if Steve is carrying a big ol’ thing, he’ll drop it to wave and say, ‘Good to see you, Shelly!’” She pauses to wipe away a tear. “That means a lot. They’ve created a community. That’s what brings the customers here, and that’s what brings the vendors here.”
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Building a community and a business is no easy feat. Renovating the barn, managing the sales, and creating art took its toll on the Lynams. Paula’s stress hit an unhealthy level, and in 2018, she faced a much greater stressor: stage 3 ovarian cancer. With the diagnosis came tough news of her path ahead: surgery, chemo, and a three-year prognosis. Melanie Parsons, who works with the Lynams, recalled that the barn family fell into a “quiet sadness.” But then they got to work, taking care of the barn’s business while Paula and Steve went to appointments.
Doctors hoped that the surgery would remove most of the cancer. They were wrong; the surgery removed all of it. Paula was declared cancer-free — no chemo needed — and she remains cancer-free today. “Cancer puts things in perspective — it changes the things that matter,” she says. “During that time, the vendors cared for me. And in the long run, that’s what matters to me. It’s not about having a great big sale and wondering if I’m going to be successful. It’s about the people and relationships that we can build here.”
Gather the barn family in a room and no one talks about dollars. They share stories. They talk about customers, like the woman who found a cake pan just like the one her grandma used. They talk about setting up for sales together while singing hymns, gospel tunes, and even a little Elvis. And they talk about the regulars who come here, some to shop and others simply to enjoy a little peace, even during a hurricane or the “Death Ridge” heat wave.
“Some people just come here to sit in a chair out front in the shade or go sit in the chapel,” Melanie says. “People will say that they don’t even realize what it is; they don’t know why, but they just want to be here.”
Chartreuse Barn Sale
September 5-7, October 10-12, November 7-9, December 5-7
326 Litwin Drive
Thomasville, NC 27360