The Jewel of Mount Washington

Athena Hoffberger (left) and Julie Lilienfeld started Wishbone Reserve in 2014 after the two entrepreneurs met and shared their vision  of opening a consignment store with unique, well-made merchandise. (Daniel Schere)
Athena Hoffberger (left) and Julie Lilienfeld started Wishbone Reserve in 2014 after the two entrepreneurs met and shared their vision of opening a consignment store with unique, well-made merchandise. (Daniel Schere)

The vast selection of oriental rugs, vintage dresses, crafts and even a moose’s head that adorn Wishbone Reserve in Mount Washington are enough to give even the casual customer a topic of conversation for the dinner table. But it is co-owners Julie Lilienfeld, 33, and Athena Hoffberger, 37, who turned a conversation three years ago into a life’s ambition.

The seeds of the consignment shop at 5730 Falls Road, were born in 2013 when Lilienfeld, with the purpose of buying a bar cart, walked into a store Hoffberger was managing and the two clicked instantly.

“We both wanted to be small business owners,” Lilienfeld said. “I had a background in antiques and jewelry, so I needed that person, which was Athena, to kind of foster that.”

As it turns out, the women’s families had crossed paths before when Lilienfeld’s parents bought the house in which Hoffberger had grown up.

“My mother had met Julie and had thought so kindly of her through the sale of the house, so we sort of put two and two together and I knew that she was  a peer who was really passionate about antiques, etc. …” Hoffberger said. “And it’s more unusual to find someone in our age group who has that interest and who’s had that life experience.”

When she was ready, Lilienfeld was the first and only person she thought of. “I called her, we met for coffee, and the rest is history.”

Lilienfeld is no stranger to the antiques profession, having worked with several family members in the auction business going back to her teenage years.

“I always loved jewelry, so I was in charge of that department for a long (time,” she said. “It’s just an interest that I’ve always had. I don’t know anything different. So this is just a continuum of something I’ve always done.”

(Daniel Schere)
(Daniel Schere)

Hoffberger, the daughter of American Visionary Art Museum founder and  director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, credits her parents as the driving force behind her creative spirit.

“My parents are pretty amazing people,” she said. “They were pretty influential in what they exposed us to at a very young age with art and culture and the importance of human rights.”

Hoffberger and Lilienfeld both grew up attending Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, although they didn’t know each other at the time. Lilienfeld studied art history at Towson University while Hoffberger took a slightly different path in finding her niche, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York for a time.

“I loved Shakespeare, that was my big draw, and then I realized I was way too sensitive for that industry, so that was the end of the acting bug,” she said.

Lilienfeld and Hoffberger don’t shy away from talking to their customers or sharing laughs, and based on the gregarious nature of the way they interact, you would think they had known each other from birth. But perhaps the gabbing is a testament to the sister-like but professional relationship they have as business partners.

“I don’t think this could have happened without us putting all of ourselves into it,” Lilienfeld said. “All of our body, all of our spirit.”

Wishbone Reserve, in many ways, as Lilienfeld explains, is the final product of their belief that authentic, handmade merchandise is what people truly want when they go shopping.

“I knew I wanted to have a vintage store and I love nice things, and I can’t stand elitism,” she said. “So I sort of had this vision of something loosely represented here that was very global with well-made items with really  approachable price points. So Wishbone for me was about tradition and things that are passed along. And the craftsmanship of things used to be so superior to what’s produced today. So the process sort of has that sense of hopefulness and looking forward to the future.”

The best way to describe the merchandise of Wishbone Reserve might be “a little bit of everything.” Hoffberger said they now have 150 consigners and have even sold repurposed microscopes that middle school students made recently in Arbutus.

“I think a big thing that sets us apart in this industry is how hands-on and caring we are in this industry,” she said. “We love hearing the life stories about what was happening on these different adventures when they were cultivating objects and really trying to treat them with the utmost respect, whereas a lot of people in this business are just profit-oriented.”

Since the store’s opening in late 2014, word about the store has been getting around with only the benefit of free advertising on social media.

“We promised ourselves that we wouldn’t pay for any advertising for at least a year, so it’s been all word of mouth,” Hoffberger said. “For that I feel very proud that we’ve been able to not only meet our bottom line, we’ve increased sales a little bit every month.”

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