For 32 years, Universe Trading Company has been a fixture on Franklin Square, as much a unique Savannah attraction as a one-of-a-kind antique store.
Owner Greg Portman recently closed the store, with the remaining goods to be auctioned off March 9-10. We were there in the final days to talk with Greg about Universe Trading and what his place has meant to the city.
The Savannah native opened the store in 1980. He says he got his business savvy from his dad, Nathan, and his "knack for things of beauty" from his mom, Shirley, an accomplished artist.
Portman began by selling damaged or surplus items from incoming shipping containers. Soon after, he traveled to Europe and returned with a 40-foot container of antiques. He made about ten trips like that over the years, including one to China.
For awhile there he even handled all the "slightly damaged" inventory from Pier 1 stores throughout the nation.
Portman admits he has a tendency to "buy almost anything," so in-the-know locals have always brought stuff to the store for him to consider.
He remembers one hot summer day when a guy arrived with a shopping cart full of bagged ice, wanting Portman to buy it.
"He was sent on his way," Greg laughs.
Many celebrities have been "caught" in Universe over the years, from local residents like Gregg Allman, Sandra Bullock, and Paula Deen to stars just passing through, such as Darryl Hannah, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, and Naomi Judd, who Portman remembers wanted to buy the six-foot-tall Blues Brothers...
Greg also recalls "running Joan Baez out of Universe at closing time one day" because he didn't recognize her.
There've been other famous visitors as well, "whose secret will be kept."
Portman says he's "humbled and in awe" of the loyal following the store has built over the past three decades, and would like to especially thank Jimmy Anderson, an invaluable employee for 22 years.
Greg Portman himself seen in the photo on the lower right of the page, in his familiar position behind the front counter. With him is Jessie Maxwell, who is helping prepare for the upcoming auction.
In addition to the larger auction items, there will be over 200 sealed boxes sold, containing "all kinds of surprises" that were uncovered during the closing process, Portman says.
The Universe Trading Auction is March 9 & 10 at 10 a.m. at the store at 27 Montgomery St. For an online preview go to huntheadley.com; an onsite preview is March 8, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Guerry Wise of the TV series "Auction Kings" will act as guest auctioneer. The auction is conducted by Value Auction Company of Savannah in conjunction with Hunt Headly Estate Sales and Auctions.
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