Hundreds of items rescued from demolitions across Michigan are on sale in the REO town of Lansing.
The treasures are part of the lifelong work of John Sears, who ran an environmental demolition and remediation company until his death in February following a motorcycle accident in Mexico. He was 41 years old.
Sears leaves behind dozens of items currently sold at Potter’s Mill, a mixed-use industrial and commercial space it operated at 701 E. South St.
John Sears, 41: Lansing businessman saw value in people and old things
“John really had an eye on this,” said Nick Koster, president of Sears, SC Environmental Services. “He had an eye for identifying things of value that we could get out of buildings.”
The sale will continue “until all items are sold,” Koster said. The company holds the first open house days at Potter’s Mill Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sears envisioned Potter’s Mill as an incubator for over a dozen small businesses in Lansing. But it also used the space to store antiques and artifacts collected from its various demolitions across the state. As his business began to focus more on the Detroit area, where homes continue to be seriously renovated and demolished, his vision for the Lansing Artifact Store was postponed, Koster said.
“We would like to sell things to people who care and want to use them,” Koster said. “But also, the reality is that there will be wholesalers who come in and just want to take big chunks to try and resell, and that’s okay too.”
Sears’ mother, Terry Sears, browsed through her late son’s collection on Tuesday, remembering him along the way. She pointed to a can of coffee her son had found under a Flint house he demolished containing a variety of coins.
She and the family had the coins valued at a Liberty Coin and made a profit of $ 2,000.
Most of the items for sale are from interior renovations in Detroit. Among them is a curved green sofa rescued from the basement of a 12-story building.
“He was so excited,” remembers Terry. “He called his daughter Willow – I was with her, she was probably 9 years old – and he said, ‘I found this sofa for your room.’ He was so excited about it. “
So far, around 50 people have inquired about Sears items, said Paul Malley, who is involved in the sale.
“We are a demolition contractor, and through our demolition work, we salvage parts of the structures that we demolish,” Koster said. “Not so much the houses that we demolish, but we are building large commercial buildings. So it’s really just an accumulation of items that John or our company has collected.”
Many items for sale have a history steeped in history, including a mirror from Small Planet, an East Lansing bar demolished to make way for new businesses. In its place today are several condos and a HopCat restaurant.
Malley recalls attending concerts at the bar while attending Michigan State University, when it was a popular college hangout.
Old retail signs are also on sale, including bulk letters that once spelled “Talbots” at the Brenton Village Mall in Grand Rapids. There are also awnings, including one from Modern Focus, a now-closed eyewear store in Grand Rapids, and the iconic Emil’s restaurant in Lansing, which closed in 2015.
The crew also sells salvaged lumber yards, windows and furniture. The contractors even used some of the wood inside the Potter’s Mill space to fill the building and serve as room dividers.
“We used a lot of reclaimed wood in our office, and in this building we use a lot of copper pipe to make railings there,” Koster said.
Century-old items such as large chandeliers, a metal printing press, and antique church bells complete the collection, costing hundreds of dollars each.
While most of the items are up for grabs, the Sears family doesn’t want to part with them, including his old Oldsmobile and several Día de los Muertos sculptures that he bought from a friend who welded them together on the Lower Peninsula. California to Mexico.
Terry recalled Sears’ 1,890 mile trip to northern Mexico with the sculptures.
“He would go down there and stay a while and then come back, and he had to drive them back to the Baja Peninsula,” she said. “People stopped him the whole way home. You know, just to talk about them.”
Koster isn’t sure what the Potter’s Mill space will become once emptied of Sears ‘collection, but he hopes to fulfill Sears’ vision of turning it into an incubator for small businesses. The current tenants of Potter’s Mill include a roaster, several beauty salons, an interior designer, a gym and a gift shop.
Koster remains determined to find a good home for every treasure in space – or use them himself.
“We just can’t bear to throw away some things, like those old windows,” Koster said. “Some of these are just things you just don’t want to throw away.”