Antiquing in the 'Burgh

An original Led Zeppelin vinyl record for $1. A working vintage Kitchenaid mixer for $5. Wall-to-wall knick knacks. Plattsburgh’s Antique & Variety Mall has enough items to keep customers busy for days


Story and photos by Priscila Ortiz

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The lower level of the store hosts a plethora of decorative knick knacks.

About 12 years ago, Stephen Brodi owned the building on 12 Margaret Street and decided to turn it into an antique store. For the past four years, it has been managed by George Gowdy. Walk into the store at any given time and Gowdy will be sitting behind the register, engaged in friendly conversation with a customer. He calls the store a “group shop” wherein around 52 local vendors rent spots within the store to have their merchandise laid out for purchase.

Consisting of two floors, every inch of the store is packed with vintage knick knacks, books, clothes, appliances, and much more. Maneuvering around the store can be difficult without knocking things over. The randomness of all the items makes the experience all the more special. One section of the store includes a collection of antique silverware and next to it is a deer head wall mount. On the main floor are stacks of vintage Life magazines from the 1970s for 50 cents apiece -- the original price of the publication.

Over the years, the Antique & Variety Mall has only gotten better, says Gowdy. “Our vendors are more professional, and we get good merchandise at realistic prices.” When examining the quality of the items, Gowdy looks out for cracks, bents, tarnishes, and signs of heavy use. “We want items that have been used, not abused,” says Gowdy.

"If it’s a collectible, it must be in pristine condition. If it’s operational, it must still work."

Most of the merchandise comes from the vendors’ own home, their relatives, or auctions. The oldest items are from the 1800s, consisting of farm tools, kitchen equipment, and pictures. “A problem we sometimes have when people bring items in is that they think age equals value,” says Gowdy. “They think because it’s antique, it automatically has value. That’s not the case.”

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The Antique & Variety Mall has many relics from the past, including many VHS tapes.

Peter Dame has been the security guard at the store for a little over a year. He says he enjoys the company of the vendors and Gowdy. “Giving the economy, there are more sellers than buyers,” says Dame.

"People are emptying their basements and their attics to help pay for gas and whatnot."

“I’ve had people come in off the street, wanting to sell their watch because they need to pay for gas to get home,” added Gowdy.

The crowd at the store generally consists of middle-aged women, according to Gowdy. “They’re not necessarily elderly, but they aren’t teenyboppers either.” Half of the customers are regulars, so the income of new items comes on a regular basis. “We have to keep up. If we have the same things out all the time, we’ll lose our customers,” says Gowdy. “Sometimes we fool them by just switching things around,” he whispers with a smile on his face.

Recently, the Antique & Variety Mall received a grant of about $10,000 from the city of Plattsburgh to redo their storefront. Construction began the first week of September and was completed the first week of December. According to Gowdy, the construction definitely hurt business, as it as it blocked most of the storefront. “But I absolutely believe business will pick up,” he says.

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The merchandise ranges from furniture and books to antique watches and keys.

Theresa Desormeaux has been working at the store for about four years, and says she does it all, or “anything that needs doing.” She says that she didn’t become interested in antiques until she retired, and began to work part time as a cashier at the store. “My favorite thing to say is ‘Kitsch isn’t dead.’ We have a lot of classic antiques, but we also have a lot of tacky, decorative things -- and people love them.”

A customer got lucky one day when Desormeaux made an error in pricing. “We had these three-foot-tall original Nippon vases from Japan, and they were priced for $175 each. I made the mistake of writing $75 on the price tag. The owner jokes around with me about that to this day.”

Brian McCourt has worked as a clerk at the store for about two years. A piece of advice he gives regarding antiques is that you learn as you go. “There is no handbook,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for ten years, and I haven’t seen everything. You will never see everything.”

 

What was your experience at an antique or thrift store?

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