Gracie’s movie collection plays important role within Treasure City Flea Market
Story by Cole Niles | Photos by Andi Risk
It’s a cold Saturday morning in Waco, Texas. Gracie Shelton pulls her car into the lot of Treasure City Flea Market with a few boxes in her passenger seat, filled to the brim with movies.
She sets up shop around 6:30 a.m. during the summers, but it isn’t summer. The cold air of February keeps people in bed longer, and Shelton is no exception. She unloads her car around eight as early risers slowly begin to meander into the market.
Shelton’s store is easy to find – she’s been there for years. Customers old and new are greeted the same way: with a big smile and a massive yellow sign reading “Movies.” Underneath the tent, shoppers take refuge within a sanctuary of films. The shelved walls are lined with titles from all around the world, like a winding library. She unloads the new movies into their respective sections. More horror, a few anime, and, of course, heaps of Bollywood classics are placed in their spots around the shop. After a bit of tidying up, Shelton settles into her seat behind the counter, puts a movie on her flat- screen TV, and waits.
Light bounces from corner to corner of the store, even on a rainy day. She adjusts her collectibles into the proper positions before opening shop – her favorite one is Superman, which stands about 4 feet high in front of the checkout counter. The dozens of collectibles, while impressive, are not for sale. Shelton could never part with the beloved figures, as they radiate a fun-loving disposition throughout the store.
Strolling through her shop can be overwhelming at times. The expanse of movies stretches seemingly forever in every direction, despite the space being only a few dozen square feet. Shelton, however, finds comfort in the thousands of titles that surround her. It’s a haven, not only for her customers, but for Shelton herself.
“The work sometimes is stressful,” Shelton said, “But God, I think he has a plan… I think he says that this is what’s going to make her happy. I think this is my happy.”
And that happiness becomes infectious. No matter who they are, or where they are from, Shelton’s smile brings people in.
“She’s got a pretty nice little personality,” Bruce said with a laugh. “She’s all right – she’ll do.” Bruce has been a regular customer of Shelton’s for years now, and they have become good friends – so good that they are able to tease each other back and forth. After the laughter subsided, Bruce’s face settles into a warm smile. “You don’t find too many people like that,” Bruce said, smiling at Shelton from across the store.
Bruce’s story is the same as most of Shelton’s regular customers. He comes to the flea market every Saturday, rain or shine. He is especially fond of Shelton’s location because of its close proximity to the food. After grabbing a bite to eat, he comes over to say hi to Shelton and do some shopping. Sometimes he browses Shelton’s selections, and other times he comes to her with a request.
Whenever a customer wants a certain movie, all they need is the movie’s title and a week’s time. She tracks down every title for her faithful regulars. This means doing whatever it takes – scouring pawn shops, movie stores, or even going on line to find the perfect movie for her customers. The next week, Shelton brings everyone’s requested movies in cardboard boxes.
Those boxes, filled to the brim with personalized selections, stand as a microcosm of Shelton herself. She is fiercely loyal to her friends and customers, terms which become virtually indistinguishable to her if you stay around long enough. To her, the people in her store are just that: people. That is why she saturates every transaction in care and genuine interest.
Shelton stands as the antithesis to a company like Amazon: automation and profits contour their business model. For someone like Jeff Bezos, the less human interaction the better. Humans make mistakes – robots don’t.
But robots don’t smile, and efficiency can’t tell you about their day. Profit margins don’t ask how your kids are doing, or if your wife is feeling better. Shelton does not see her customers as potential money to be had; no, they’re potential friends to be made. And once you’re a friend of Shelton, you’re a friend for life.
“A lot of the people here are regulars,” Shelton said. “They don’t always buy, sometimes they come and we chit chat.”
That chit chat goes a long way. “You have to appreciate them; you have to treat them right. Some of them have had a bad week, and they’ll come and just sit around and talk. I have really developed a lot of awesome friendships out here,” Shelton said.
John, another one of Shelton’s regulars, has been coming for over seven years. He estimates that he’s bought thousands of movies from Shelton, a badge he wears proudly. John rarely misses a Saturday at Shelton’s, and if he ever does, he can count on Gracie checking up on him the following weekend. A small “How have you been?” can go a long way.
John scans the horror section thoughtfully. “Horror is probably my favorite genre,” John said. When asked what his favorite horror movie is, he responded emphatically with John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween.”
“I always look for my mom and step-mother, too,” John said. “They’re always looking for ‘40s movies, the old ones.” Luckily for him, Shelton always has him covered. With a wide selection stretching over genre, actor, and even language, Shelton is always able to give her friends the best recommendations for their taste.
And her customers truly are just that: her friends. Whether you have come for years on end or are visiting for the first time, Gracie Shelton will always make you her friend.
These relationships, formed over a shared love of movies, make the work, effort and time all worth it for Shelton. Movies bind people together in ways that not many other things can. But while Shelton loves movies, it isn’t really about the movies at all. It’s about the people.
A Day in the Life of Gracie Shelton
5:00 a.m. Wakes up
6:00 a.m. Leaves house in Temple to drive to work
7:00 a.m. Works at McLane Company as accounting clerk
3:30 p.m. Heads home for the day
5:00 a.m. Wakes up
6:00 a.m. Leaves house in Temple to drive to Flea Market
6:30 a.m. Sets out new movies and organizes shop
Stays until business dies down