Before opening her store, the story of Jane Dumphrey caught the attention of Ryan Bush.
By Lindsey June / Photography by Emily Pérez Long
Dumphrey was a Northern Irish native born in the 1800s to a rag-and-bone trader father. Her parents died when she was young, but Jane upheld her father’s profession, becoming a successful merchant who used her charm to secure valuable items. While working for an esteemed doctor in Belfast, a crooked boyfriend convinced Jane to steal a fancy carved ostrich egg. She was found guilty of theft and was shipped to Australia. But, ever the charmer, Jane found herself in the good graces of the boat’s captain and his wife. The captain sent Jane to his cousin, a general store owner, who christened her “Dirty Jane.” Her eye for fine items brought great wealth to the owner and made the young Irish woman a legend.
Ryan Bush, a native Chattanoogan about to open an antique mall, worked in antiques for 15 years before setting up her shop. She learned about Jane Dumphrey from relatives overseas and borrowed her name for her new store. (Bush also has a dog named Tenley Jane, who served as further inspiration.) Dirty Jane’s Antiques opened in Red Bank on October 15, 2017, and more than lives up to its namesake. It’s full of the same spunk and charm that made Jane Dumphrey such a success.
Before opening Dirty Jane’s, Bush managed Knitting Mill Antiques until its closure in 2015. “Lynn and Scott Short, the owners at the Knitting Mill, always told me they knew I would open my own store one day,” says Bush, who attended Baylor and got a degree in anthropology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Shortly after the Mill closed, I knew they were right. I missed the atmosphere, the people, and a valid excuse to shop.”
These days, Dirty Jane’s is home to over 100 vendors who have booths in the 24,000-square-foot warehouse space located on Dayton Boulevard. Both the vendors and Bush provide a dazzling array of antiques to customers. Stepping into Dirty Jane’s is like walking through a kaleidoscope of color, charm, and history. The space is eclectic and vibrant; you can find everything from vintage wicker bassinets to industrial wood furniture to decorative plates to crystal balls and more. It’s a dream location for lovers of unique, historical items.
But filling Dirty Jane’s with its abundance is no easy task. Bush dedicates most of her waking hours to the business. Her days begin with checking the store’s social media messages, as a lot of interest comes from online customers. After that, she gathers merchandise that needs to come to the store. “A lot of times we take items home to clean and research,” she explains.
After that, the day varies. Sometimes, Bush and her employees will redo layouts, especially if they sold a lot of furniture the day before. If a holiday is on the horizon, they’ll work on crossover themes for the venue spaces. Some days, Bush has to acquire items for the store, which can mean cleaning out old warehouses with no heat or air or digging through barns and attics. Despite harsh conditions, these adventures can be prosperous for the store.
“Recently, we got to dig around in the storage rooms of an 80-year-old shoe store that is going out of business,” Bush explains. “It was hot, there was no air, bad lighting, and it was filthy from years of water leaks. But it was full of store displays and fixtures from the 1940s and ‘50s, as well as hundreds of pairs of stock shoes from the same era in the original boxes. Those are things you just can’t find anymore.”
“The people are my favorite part of running the store. I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing people in the store and on our shopping trips, and that’s invaluable.” – Ryan Bush
Finding unique merchandise is one of the challenges of running Dirty Jane’s. Bush is always trying to make sure the store looks different than other local antique spots. Because the space is stocked with antiques, it functions differently than typical retail shops. There are no duplicates. When something sells, it’s gone for good. And when new items come in, areas have to be redesigned to incorporate the piece and look aesthetically pleasing.
COVID-19 presented additional challenges for Dirty Jane’s in the last year. Many estate sales and auctions moved online, meaning Bush and her team couldn’t evaluate them in-person to see if they were right for the store. Sales increased during the pandemic, but keeping up with demand has been a challenge as merchandise has been more difficult to find.
But, like its namesake merchant, Dirty Jane’s Antiques has persevered. In the future, Bush plans to get the store online, which will bring even more awareness to the brand and allow customers from far away to shop for the unique items Bush and her team have acquired. After all, it’s the community that keeps Bush going.
“The people are my favorite part of running the store,” says Bush. “I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing people in the store and on our shopping trips, and that’s invaluable.”