Amid the countless Hispanic- and Latinx-owned panaderías, markets, and vendors in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, you can now also find a Black-owned business brimming with charming housewares and trinkets.
It’s called III Antiques & Thangs, a vintage thrift shop and boutique at the intersection of Fruitvale Avenue and East 13th Street. Inside the lavender-colored building, you’ll find a hodgepodge of miscellaneous goods such as umber ceramics, dainty catch-all dishes, traditional African wooden masks, handmade earrings, hefty wool-acrylic blankets made in Ecuador, pagoda table lamps, and more. Behind a white door in the back of the shop is a full kitchen that looks out to a small patio with outdoor seating and tables and a mini garden for fresh herbs and vegetables.
“A lot of smoking weed and drinking bourbon went into this place,” said Phillip Gums III, owner of III Antiques & Thangs, which opened about a quarter mile northwest of the Fruitvale BART station last December. The shop is his third venture—he also operates a modeling agency based in Berkeley called Three Model Management, which represents models throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and 3 Talent Agency, a recruiting and booking service for actors and models looking to star in television shows, films, fashion runways, and editorial shoots worldwide.
Gums is, by and large, an artist, making III Antiques & Thangs an extension of his creativity. “Being in the fashion industry, I have a good eye for aesthetics and putting stuff together,” he said, describing his unique style as a “love of different thangs.”
From model to chef to small business owner
Born and raised in Sacramento, Gums lived many lives before settling in Oakland and opening his antique shop. On New Year’s Eve in 1989, Gums boarded a one-way flight from California to Italy to jumpstart his modeling career without knowing anything about or anyone in the industry.
“I went over there because I wanted to learn about different cultures, learn different languages, meet women from all over the world, party,” he said, laughing. “And I got my ass kicked.”
The glitz and glam of Italy was alluring but often inaccessible, and Gums said he experienced homelessness, though he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his passions. From his “home base” in Milan, he used his earnings from modeling to travel and book more gigs throughout France, Spain, Austria, England, and other European countries. Two and a half years later, he moved back to California—this time in Oakland—and continued modeling professionally in the Bay Area, eventually launching Three Model Management in August 2003.
When he wasn’t in front of the camera, Gums spent his time perfecting another craft: culinary arts. A chef in his own right, he would travel across the Bay Bridge and host cooking demonstrations at Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco. In 2013, during one of his lessons, a scout noticed Gums and encouraged him to audition for “America’s Best Cook,” a limited-run Food Network show that brought together 16 amateur chefs from across the country to compete for the eponymous title. He landed the gig.
“They flew me to New York to stay in Chelsea near the [Food Network] studio, and I was killing it—until dessert came,” Gums said. “I don’t cook desserts, so I got kicked off by damn dessert.”
After the show aired in 2014, Gums’s wife told him he needed to find something else to do that he was passionate about. He recalled childhood outings in which he, his mother, and his grandmother would go to flea markets and rummage sales.
“I’ve always collected stuff, and something that was always been on my mind was to have a storefront with an outdoor area and a kitchen,” said Gums. Searching for a location to realize his vision, Gums reached out to his friends at Red Bay Coffee, who connected him to a realtor.
The real estate agent gave him a tour of the pastel purple storefront on Fruitvale Avenue. Not only did the store check all his boxes, but it was painted in his favorite color. Gums saw this as a sign.
“It was meant to be,” he said. “I’m one of those people who believes that when you ask the universe for something, and the universe grants it to you, you have to make it work.”
Once he secured the building, Gums brought in antique goods from his house, sourced items from yard and estate sales, and received random vintage wares from friends. To get his family involved, he also reserved corners of the shop for items sold by his eight-year-old son, River, and his mother, Kathy.
River’s section boasts shelves stacked with children’s books, Hot Wheels cars, and Pokémon loot, whereas “Kathy’s Corner” is filled with kitchenware, clothing, and accessories.
“He’s like me—he’s a hustler,” said Gums, referring to his son. “But he has to pay me 10% of what he makes.”
Gums has several ideas brewing for future events at the store, including a dinner party. He envisions curating a dinner menu, posting it on the shop’s Instagram page, and calling for folks who would like an invitation to send their mailing address via direct messaging.
“We’re going to choose 15 random people and send them a physical invitation, and they can’t bring a guest,” he said. “So it’s going to be all strangers, and then we’ll have dinner, and I’ll make my signature cocktail, and they can pay what they want to pay.”
He also sees III Antiques & Thangs doubling as a “prop house” where anyone can rent items for television, film, or other media—something Gums said the Bay Area is currently lacking—as well as a community space to host special events, hang out with friends, or to simply chill out.
“This is a really magical area,” Gums said. “There’s so many different things that have happened that let me know that this is the right thing to do.”
III Antiques & Thangs, 1232 Fruitvale Ave. Open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Donations accepted.