The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

‘I’ve been collecting my whole life’: Richard Wilford, paramedic, finds new purpose in estate sale storefront in Edgewater

Linnea Cheng
Richard Wilford talks with a customer in his Edgewater storefront on Oct. 22, 2023. Every item in the store, from Tiffany jewelry boxes to Beanie Babies, is handpicked from local families’ estates.

Richard Wilford is quite literally the man on the corner. Whether he is chatting with customers or waving at familiar faces passing by on Broadway, it is clear that Wilford’s open door is a central point for the community. But the shop is only half the story.

Richard Wilford is the founder of Richard Alan EstateOptions, a curated estate sale storefront in the Edgewater neighborhood. Wilford started the business as a pop-up shop in April 2021. The event’s popularity led to more pop-up sales, eventually leading Wilford to establish permanent residency in the building.

Unlike thrift stores or pawn shops where items are donated or bought from people walking on the street, Wilford’s goods are a conglomeration of hand-picked hidden treasures from local families’ homes.

When he isn’t tending to the storefront on weekends or combing through homes filled with forgotten items, Wilford is working his 50-hour-per-week day job at an ambulance company. Wilford began working as a paramedic at 18 and since transitioned into overseeing the billing department.

Wilford starts his day at 5 a.m., commutes to Skokie, and then returns to the city to work through an estate in the evening.

From there, he decides what is trash, treasure or could be donated. What does not go into the Edgewater store or discarded is staged in the house for an on-site estate sale.

Many of his clients are people who are transitioning into assisted living or families who have recently lost a loved one and are at a loss for what to do with a house full of stuff. Wilford tries to complete an estate job in about 20 business days, allowing families to slow down the moving process — something typical estate sale companies disregard.

When he started his business, Wilford initially aimed to take on one estate at a time. Right now, he has four.

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  • Artwork hangs in the hallway of the Uptown Estate on Oct. 25, 2023. Richard Wilford fills estates’ walls with clients’ art pieces and decor before showings.

  • Marissa Covert (left) and Jen Sampson look at a dragonfly necklace in Richard Wilford’s Edgewater storefront on Oct. 22, 2023. Sampson ended up purchasing the necklace and a dog statue that looked like her own.

  • A cameo pin Richard Wilford recently found from an estate is on display in his store on Oct. 22, 2023. Wilford always looks for unique and antique jewelry when he takes on an estate.

  • Richard Wilford welcomes customers into his Edgewater store on Oct. 22, 2023. Wilford makes a point to keep his front door open so passerby feel more inclined to come in.

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“They always say it’s not work if you enjoy it, and I truly enjoy both things that I do,” Wilford said. “Helping families, as a paramedic and taking care of people who are sick and injured…this (the estate business) is a kind of continuation of that part in my life.”

Wilford keeps a wide range of items in his store, from Tiffany jewelry boxes to Beanie Babies. The eclectic nature of the store often results in a forehead print on the front door when Wilford opens the shop, he said.

“I’ve been collecting my whole life,” Wilford said.

Wilford’s love for all things unique goes back to his childhood when his mother would take him to flea markets on the weekends.

“We love antiquing and shopping for eclectic and one-of-a-kind items,” said Marissa Covert, who stopped in with her friend Jen Sampson on their way to dinner. “I don’t like HomeGoods or Target and buying something that everyone else is going to have in their house. Finding those unique pieces … tells a story.”

Currently, Wilford is working on an estate in Uptown. The apartment in the 19th-century building is almost 1,000 square feet. Wilford has been working on it three nights a week for nearly three weeks.

Wilford will mostly comb through an estate by himself. Occasionally, he will have one of his part-time employees come in and lend an extra hand. For the Uptown estate, Wilford enlisted DePaul student Alex Nance to help get the house in order.

“I’ve definitely learned so much since I started working with Rich,” said Nance, a second-year animation student. “There’s so much to learn that comes with these houses.”

Once a house is ready, Wilford stages an on-site estate sale where people can come into the house and purchase whatever they like. Everything down to sponges in the kitchen and the light bulbs in lamps are for sale.

Wilford is hoping to make his estate business his full-time job eventually. His dream is to retire into collecting, with aspirations to expand his work to include every step of the estate process, including selling the home.

Despite the thousands of items Wilford encounters, he still avows their history is invaluable.

“Bring back the heirloom,” Wilford said. “There’s so much value in our possessions and what we pass on to our loved ones.”

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