July 18, 2018
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At Maine antique shops, you never know what you’ll find

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Updated:

As the weather warms, antique shop owners throughout Maine are dusting off furniture, polishing silver, shining glassware and opening their doors to the summer crowds. Antiquing season has officially begun, and each treasure hidden in these shops each has a special story, some of which may catch you by surprise.

“Anything that’s unusual, that people don’t see it every day, will sell,” Cindy Gallant, owner of Hobby Horse Antiques and Flea Market in Searsport, said.

On a recent day, hanging by the doorway of the market’s main building were wooden lobster buoys dating back the 1800s. And on a shelf just inside the door were boxes and boxes of stone arrowheads that had been fished out of the Machias River.

“It was one man’s collection of arrowheads,” Gallant said, “and I was lucky to get it.”

Down the road, at Pumpkin Patch Antiques, there were nautical instruments of ebony and ivory dating back to the 1850s. And at Good Deals Antique Mall & Collectables in Bucksport, there were dozens of clocks from the 1800s, beautifully restored by a local resident.

Each antique store has its own special items — many, in fact. And as the season progresses, their offerings constantly change as customers carry away one-of-a-kind pieces and shop owners attend auctions, estate sales and yard sales to find more wares.

Matching an old house

One of the reasons antiquing is so popular in the Northeast is because of the abundance of old, sturdy houses that exist in the region. Some people simply refuse to decorate a historied house with modern furniture and decor.

Such was the case for Rolf Tallberg, who fell into the world of antiquing when he purchased a beautiful Victorian house on Main Street in Bucksport. Known as Linwood Cottage, the building was constructed around 1850 as the home of jeweler and clockmaker James Emery and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tallberg has done a great deal of work on the house itself to restore it to its former glory, and part of that restoration has been to furnish the home with ornate Victorian furniture made between 1830 and 1890. Lucky for him, there was an antique shop located right across the street.

Today, Tallberg owns and runs that store, Good Deals Antique Mall & Collectibles. Now he helps others furnish their homes.

“We have people who buy older houses, some real old houses,” Tallberg said. “So they come in here looking for period stuff to furnish their houses, and sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t.”

Younger customers with newer homes tend to like mid-century items, those that would be considered retro, so the age of the objects in his store varies widely. What qualifies as an antique is “kind of in the eye of the beholder,” Tallberg said.

Tallberg has learned that bookshelves and interesting chairs sell quickly, but for the most part it’s hard to tell whether an item will remain in the store for years or be sold in a day. It all depends on the customer who walks through the door.

“I’ll have something for years and think, ‘I’ll never sell that.’ Then someone will come in the door and say, ‘That’s just what I wanted! I’ve been looking for one of those for years,’” Tallberg said as he walked up to a shelf that displayed a variety of figurines.

“Somebody has a collection of these,” he said, re-arranging a group of ceramic bears. “I don’t know who or where, but somebody has a collection of these.”

And if they walk into his store, they’ll be happy to find them for $1 each.

Trends and tastes

Stepping into a Maine antique shop can a bit overwhelming. Walls often are covered with vintage signs, priceless paintings and quirky advertisements. Shelves are lined with glass bottles, silver tea sets and strange figurines. There are nooks designated for porcelain dolls, old hardware, music records and out-of-print books. Objects continually catch your eye because of their beauty, evident age or utter unfamiliarity.

Antique shop owners tend to shoot for variety because the trends are difficult to predict, as are the customers.

“It changes year to year, day to day,” said Wayne Riley, who rents a building at Hobby Horse Flea Market with his wife, Jane. “People’s interests change. It depends on what’s hot, what Pinterest is doing. It’s all that.”

It’s remarkable how many items the Rileys fit into their small shop. Cooking pans, hats, lanterns, taxidermy fish, knives, salt and pepper shakers, kerosene lamps, umbrellas, model airplane kits, a guitar — the list goes on and on.

“It’s all cool. I find so much stuff I never even knew existed,” Riley said.

Everyone is looking for something different, he said. But there are certain types of items that they’re confident they will sell out of quickly. Garden decorations and outdoor furniture, for example, are popular in the spring.

Vintage soda and cigar signs are also popular right now, Gallant said, as are nautical items, such as lanterns and rigging pieces. In fact, old ship wheels are such a hot ticket item that she has a difficult time keeping one in stock.

Another trend is using mid-century industrial items for home decor, according to David Oakes, manager of Searsport Antique Mall. Walking into one of the mall’s many vendor booths, he picked up a metal chimney sweep tool from the 1940s, a tangle of wires roughly in the shape of a broom.

“Put a lightbulb in this, hang it and you’ve got yourself an industrial kitchen lamp,” Oakes said.

Antiquing with a twist

In recent years, the antiques market has struggled in Maine as many young shoppers have shown less interest in old items and collectables. Some shop owners have responded by experimenting with what items they carry and how those items are presented.

Connie Richards, owner of Hand-Me-Down Treasures located in Hobby Horse Flea Market, has found that some young shoppers are more apt to purchase antiques if they’re refurbished or updated. She and her husband clean, paint and rewire antique lamps. They upholster and stain old furniture. Their store is bright, well-organized and free of dust and cobwebs.

“We’re a little different. We don’t do the rusty, dusty or musty,” Richards said. “We love working with our hands, taking something and making it look new again. Let’s save what we have, let it live and breathe against for another 100 years.”

Richards has certainly found her niche, but that style of shop isn’t for everyone. In fact, right down the road is her polar opposite: Treasures and Trash Barn.

Snagging the attention of people traveling Route 1 in Searsport, the famous Treasures and Trash Barn is a sight to behold. In business for nearly 50 years, the shop is chock full of old hardware, lamps, telephones, stools, frames, doors, windows and much more. The wares spill out onto the driveway and across the lawn. Some things are rusted and broken. It’s a DIY paradise. It’s also a place frequented by builders and artists.

“People must think it’s cool because they buy stuff all the time,” Jeff Merry, who took over the store from his uncle 19 years ago, said.

Like many antique shops in the area, Treasures & Trash Barn is only open during the summer. During that time, Merry works long hours. When he isn’t manning his shop, he’s searching for new wares. But he and other antique shop owners in the region seem optimistic about the season ahead.

“I think it’s going to be a fabulous year because we’re getting busy so much earlier and people are spending more than they have spent in past years,” Gallant said. “It’s been a tough two or three years. … I think the economy is just better.”

Oakes echoed her sentiment.

“We had a very good spring,” Oakes said. “And so far, the season has been good. We just need a little better weather. But now it’s starting to warm up, I think we’re going to start seeing more people come around.”

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