Bid now! Local stuff on eBay enriches residents

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello sold recently for $26 plus $4.50 shipping and handling.

A startling piece of information, but caretakers of Jefferson's home need not worry. In this case, what sold was just the headline and the story from a four-page newspaper reporting the 1831 sale of Monticello, an item of ephemera listed among hundreds of objects of historical and, every so often, questionable value posted every day on eBay, the phenomenally popular internet auction site.

Type in "Charlottesville" in the eBay search engine, and you'll find everything from Civil War artifacts and UVA memorabilia to vintage postcards depicting local landmarks like the Blue Ridge Sanatorium. And yes a plethora of Dave Matthews items that make the band's own merchandising arm, The Warehouse, appear puny by comparison.

Charlottesville's historic relevance and its more modern notoriety as home of DMB make the city a veritable treasure trove of collectible merchandise routinely marketed on eBay, but, somewhat surprisingly, emanating from everywhere but here.

Got to have that newspaper detailing the 1831 sale of Monticello? You'll have to buy it from a seller in Brick, New Jersey. The sanatorium postcard is closer Manassas but not home. Matthews, of course, rates his own category dwarfing the Charlottesville category with almost 2,000 recent listings versus 121 posted under the city's name where among the numerous listings of concert tickets, autographed guitars, and CDs, you can find such fun stuff as a DM Tarot Card, if you dig.

But if few locals are mining their own attic, so to speak, that doesn't mean Charlottesvillians are not represented among the millions of registered sellers on eBay.

With the economy in a slump and unemployment at a nine-year high, it's not unusual for businesses and individuals to seek alternative opportunities to generate profits, supplement their income, or even create new careers.

Jeff Prillaman and Jenny Mitchell are two locals who capture the essence of both ends of this spectrum in a retooled "New Economy" forged by eBay, perhaps the Internet's most successful e-commerce dot-com.

For more than 14 years, Prillaman, 39, has owned and operated Cavalier Cards, a sports card and memorabilia store located on Premier Circle; he has been active on eBay since 1998. Mitchell is a 26-year-old mother who turned a negative side effect of pregnancy swollen feet into a burgeoning at-home business selling for a handsome profit a closet full of shoes that no longer fit.

Both have joined the ranks of the millions of subscribers to the site, founded in 1995 by former computer applications developer Pierre Omidyar, that has grown from a weekend online bulletin board operated out of his apartment into a multi-billion dollar corporation that has turned thousands of collectors into self-employed e-commerce entrepreneurs.

"I do the eBay thing full time," says Mitchell, a former barista at Higher Grounds whose eBay shoe sales represented the perfect union of career and motherhood. Now, two years later, Mitchell and son scour thrift stores and yard sales together and market their vintage clothing finds such as 1980s Member's Only jackets that sell for as much as $200 each under her eBay site and a new website, frecklewonder.com. "A huge part of the immediate interest in the site is due to eBay," Mitchell says.

Prillaman, who has a degree in civil engineering from UVA and also teaches math at Albemarle High School, began collecting sports cards as a kid in the 1970s. He continued his passion while attending UVA, and opened his store in Fashion Square Mall in 1991 before moving to its current location three years ago.

When Prillaman signed on, eBay was simply an effective way to sell off "dead" inventory. "At first it was an inventory control tool," he says. "We were able to sell off 'dead' inventory and purchase items that sold well locally. But obviously it has progressed to much more."

Ebay is protective of its proprietary information, but Prillaman's research shows that Cavalier is now one of the top eBay sellers in the nation. Still, Prillaman, who leaves day-to-day operations to his business partner his father says that while eBay has been an important part of his company's growth, it's still just part of the business.

"We enjoy the store," he says, adding, "We enjoy seeing and talking to our customers."

 

 

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