When we were teenagers, summer vacations meant time by the pool, weeks at sleep-away camps, or long car rides during family vacations. The break from school meant fun, friends, and most importantly, free time.

But for Thomas Knepshield, the season can actually be best spent getting ahead on business. Because unlike most 14-year-olds, Thomas is a small business owner. The high school freshman at St. Xavier in Kentucky is the proprietor of Thomas' Antiques and Collectables, which focuses on vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia. 

It all began in 2012 when Thomas was in Atlanta for the University of Kentucky vs. Baylor game. His family took a trip to the World of Coca-Cola, where Thomas immediately became fan of all things Coke.

Vending machine

“After visiting the Coke museum in Atlanta, I always thought Coke stuff was cool and easy to find,” Thomas recalls.

He decided to attend his first yard sale, in search for a piece of Coca-Cola history. He lucked out and found a crate with plastic bottles. After that initial purchase, he began to build his collection with the help of his family. In fact, collecting has become quite the family affair. For example, one of his grandfathers takes him to yard sales to look for more items, and both his other grandfather and dad have lent a hand in gathering larger items, specifically Coke machines.

Thomas has acquired a few large Coca-Cola machines in his time as a collector. One is over six feet tall and almost 500 pounds. He's refurbishing it to use as a gun safe. Other items in his collection include signs, miscellaneous pieces of memorabilia, bottles and other packaging. Thomas attends garage sales and flea markets, and looks through Craigslist to find his next additions.

As Thomas's collection continued to grow so did his passion for the business-side of his hobby. He knew he wanted to expand his collection but recognized the space and financial requirements for that endeavor. So he found Clover Cottage Antique’s nearby, who conveniently had an open spot for selling. Thomas jumped on the opportunity, set up his space, brought in the items he was prepared to sell and began his venture as a business owner. To date, Thomas has sold over a dozen collectibles and is hopeful to find more success as he develops his collection and business.

Although he is the youngest seller at Clover Cottage, Thomas is already incredibly knowledgeable about what customers want. He keeps his eyes open for particular items that appeal to collectors and he ensures that they are available through his business. For example, because of his experience with Coca-Cola antiques, Thomas knows the value of and demand for items like older knickknacks and commemorative 1990’s six-packs. So he scours garage sales and Craigslist for items such as these to appeal to customers.

Next on his wish list is a porcelain sign for his personal collection. “Porcelain signs were made a long time ago,” Thomas notes of the special commodity. “They are old, rare and expensive. They are hard to find because a lot of them are in collections and authenticity is key.” 

Thomas hopes to attend business school after college and aims to continue his collecting business throughout his future career. If you are visiting Peewee Valley, Ky., stop by Clover Cottage Antique Mall and check out Thomas’s collection.