For more than 50 years, Berenice Denton has reigned over Nashville, the South and beyond as “the estate sale queen,” and immediately upon meeting her, you’ll see why. Her warmth radiates, and her charm draws you in. She has that enviable quality of putting those around her at ease and engages with new acquaintances as if they were old friends. Her knack for knowing and relating to people allows her to manage estate sales often in the midst of difficult times. At her core, she wants to help others and use her gifts to lighten their load whether that’s through aiding them in an estate sale or offering the perfect gift in her charming shop, The Cottage. It’s our pleasure to introduce you to Berenice Denton, our newest FACE of Nashville!
Are you originally from Nashville?
I’m a native Nashvillian. I’ve been here all my life, except when my father was in the service.
So you know our city quite well! What is a positive way you’ve seen it change?
I actually remember streetcars, but that’s telling you my age. Even at a young age, you could get in a streetcar and go downtown to a movie. We’d have lunch at Harvey’s, and they had Satsuma and Candyland on Church Street too, and then see a movie and then catch the bus or the streetcar back home.
I’ve seen it go from a lovely small town to a large, metropolitan city. [Growth] has brought a lot of wonderful things to Nashville. Educational, commercial … I could talk about all the different facets, but the growth element has been incredible. So many areas have transformed into beautiful, residential areas that are such an asset to the city now.
Tell us about what you do.
I have a shop on Charlotte, The Cottage. I also do estate sales and appraisals.
Estate sales are so fascinating! How did get involved?
We had our first little garage sale in our neighborhood so we could have up money for the neighbors to take a trip together to Europe and surprise our husbands. Everything marked with a D for Denton was selling. And then the beautiful things that were priced more reasonably weren’t. Then, someone came over and asked for a push mower. Years before, our young son had pushed one in the back yard, and the garden had grown up over it. It had rusted in the garden and wouldn’t go far, but it would roll backward. My neighbors’ eyes got huge when they saw me roll it out and sell it. She bought it for $25. They told me, “If you can sell a rusty lawnmower, overgrown in the back garden, then you should get into this business.”
I’ve been in the business for probably about 56 to 57 years. It has been a joy in my life to be able to help people in a time of need.
What was the most surprising or exciting item you’ve ever encountered?
We found a frozen boa constrictor in a freezer that nearly ran people out of the house. We once moved a file cabinet and found $18,000 in cash. They didn’t know it was there. We have found two live hand grenades at two different sales. We didn’t want to get blown up by my business!
What are some of the challenges of estate sales?
The first thing you want to do is to keep people happy who you are working for. It’s usually a traumatic time for them. It’s a collection of their life that they’re selling, and they have an emotional tie to it, so you want to stay on their wavelength and make sure you have an understanding.
It’s really hard to tell people about things that are not as valuable as someone thought. Things like china and crystal have decreased in value, and just because it’s an antique doesn’t mean it’s a collectible. Some antiques are not worth what they were when people bought them. Victorian antiques are not as easy to sell. When the style changes, the value changes. You have to keep up with the current values. It’s always a challenge.
What’s your favorite thing to find?
It’s fun to find things that people didn’t know they had. It’s always special to share that with someone.
It sounds like it’s pretty strongly relationship-based, then.
It should be. You’re there to look out for the best interests of those who you’re working for during a time that is difficult for them. You’re protecting the things that they cherish and that meant something to them … and getting the best price you can under the circumstances.
Where’s the furthest you’ve gone for a sale?
I once went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. And Dayton, OH. But of course, we do a lot in surrounding towns.
Switching gears a little bit … what’s your favorite thing about Nashville?
The people. The Southern hospitality. All the good restaurants that have come to town. I have several neighborhood restaurants that we love to frequent.
What is the last book that you read and loved?
I’ve actually written a book. It’s called Pass It On. It’s all the stories that have happened to us at the different sales. It details all the experiences that I have had and the people I’ve met. I wrote it about six years ago after people kept telling me to write it all down. (SB TIP: Pass It On is available on Amazon as well as at The Cottage, Belle Meade Plantation and Logos Bookstore.)
What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
I have 13 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a wonderful husband who has put up with me all these years.
Fifty-eight years ago, Barbara Fridrich and I started Christmas Village together before there were any others in the country! There were no shopping centers, and no one knew what we were trying to plan or do. We just dreamed it up! She was like a sister to me, and we had so much fun planning it together.
What is your best piece of advice?
For this industry: Don’t go into this business if you don’t want to work hard. If you have a family, they have to understand. I get calls at all hours of day and night. Find special people to work with.
For life: Make the most of everyday and make everyday count.
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family and friends?
Laughter, helping other people, and a positive attitude
Thank you, Berenice, for sharing with us and for your positive influence on our city. And thank you to Leila Grossman for the beautiful photos!
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