EMBRACING TREASURES: THE ART OF SURVIVING

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Ten years ago, Our Time Press christened three blocks on Malcolm X Blvd., between Halsey Street and Decatur Street, “Antiques Row.” 

Our Time’s effort and intention was to help MXB antiquarians pick up business from the October 1999 “Come On Home to Bedford-Stuyvesant” Brownstone Tour.  It did.

Within two years, the corridor had extended from Anthony Smith’s Odd Things’ Collectibles at Decatur and MXB to Morton’s Antique Memories at the northwest corner of Putnam Avenue.  Clarence Barber, veteran of them all, and Paul Tyner and Greta Niles, who rented a space inside Tyner’s place, across from Barber’s, enjoyed steady traffic.   

Dalton Taylor’s The Victorian on Tompkins Avenue South, Ken William’s high-end Mercantile on the corner of Fulton Street and Irving, and Eddie Hibbert’s cave of a treasure chest on Myrtle, attracted collectors from all over the city. 

All of the furniture dealers had a common goal: to keep business going, and to prosper.

Now only Mr. “C” survives on the original Antiques Row.  Greta may be in Florida, site of her dream Antiques emporium.  Tyner and Morton have not been heard from, although Morton may be residing nearby. Mr. Smith is retired to stately Savannah, GA, his Odd Things replaced by the high-scale Thompson’s Interiors – hardly a place, now, for stuff. 

Taylor and Hibbert are still around, plying trade amidst salvaged architectural gems, from pier mirrors, painted wood mantles and victor-victrolas to brass hinges, old Ebony and National Geographic magazines, spinster’s diaries and framed photos of high school class pictures of the 50’s, and tons of other bits and pieces.

Business is slow.  “All small businesses are suffering because of the economy,” Taylor told us.  “Nearly 40 antique shops along Atlantic Avenue (site of 1999’s real Antiques Row) have closed their doors for good.  If you can keep the doors from closing, you’re doing OK.”

Plus a lot of folks are accessing their shopping via the Internet and selling their secondhand things for first-class prices on Craig’s List.   But these stalwarts are hanging in there.  Not because they love the business.

The answer to why Taylor, Hibbert and Mr. C are still around walked into The Victorian last week.  She asked to see Taylor’s doors.  Turned out the doors he showed her were too small to fashion a 6-ft dining table out of one of them.   Taylor advised that she visit Eddie Hibbert, where she would find exactly what she wanted. After all, Eddie is the door king.  Particularly antique and old one’s.

“Eddie sends three to four people a day over to my shop,” says Dalton. 

Small businesses are being forced to create commercial alliances to stay afloat. It commands integrity and respect and an understanding that sharing customers is the only way to go.  “It’s a buyers’ market, and people are not buying.”

It doesn’t hurt, either, that Taylor strips furniture, makes repairs, refinishes and executes a range of other artisan skills, including wainscoting and crafting moldings. He knows that in today’s economy, it pays to be multifaceted. 

Mr. C’s been a fixture on the avenue for close to 40 years, and admits that real estate investment and stock market tinkering has a lot more to do with it than the occasional sale of a rare, vintage mahogany mantle or a junked lamp.

Hibbert’s super-rare finds are stored in and sold from an open, easy-access warehouse situation at Greene & Gates, the heart of Clinton Hill’s brownstoner neighborhood.  He oversees the work of a Class A wood-stripping team, and he is known for his almost-uncanny ability to “attract” great pieces of furniture and unusual finds – the kind you see oil-polished in House & Garden.  Or that you used to see in the now-defunct H&G.

In 2001, Mr. Hibbert introduced us to Jomo Oliya, a cabinetmaker who said that antique dealers, “have a soul connection with nature, and with the builders and carpenters of the past.  They hold a piece of wood.  They understand it. They respect it. They know it was shaped from the heart.  They have a special knowledge.”

Mr. Taylor shared “knowledge” about brownstones, the final havens for much of Hibbert, Mr. C’s and Taylor’s objets d’art: “They are extraordinary treasures.  Like living within a work of art. And sometimes people fail to see that the beauty of them also is in the fact that they are always being fixed up, repaired, nurtured; they are living things.  They were made when craftsmanship was king.  They can never be replaced or built ever again.”
(Note:  Please see Our Time Press Business Directory for location and contact information for The Victorian and Eddie’s Treasures.)
– Bernice Elizabeth Green

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