By JOEL C. THOMPSON
An unexpected treasure trove – stuffed with furniture, glassware, toys and more – entices shoppers from near and far to the Stratford Antique Center.
“It’s the thrill of the hunt, finding something rare, that attracts me,” said Frank Carbone, a Stratford resident who frequently stops by the Honeyspot Road center in Stratford. Carbone enthusiastically displayed a pair of wrought-iron sugar nippers he discovered during his perusal of the wares – a late-18th century tool used to break small pieces off a sugar block. “I bought this piece for just $52.20, after a discount,” he said during his recent visit. “I’ve always liked wrought iron.”
Stephen McKay, the center’s general manager, said he had no idea what the scissors-like tool was before Carbone explained it to him. “Every day is a learning experience. That’s what makes it so fascinating to be here,” said McKay, who has worked at the center since it opened in 1992.
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It is closed only on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. Its hours are extended to 9 p.m. on Thursdays in December for holiday shopping. There is no admission fee.
As part of his work, McKay urges dealers not to overprice items, instead making them affordable and enticing for fellow dealers and collectors alike. He also tells them to bring fresh items regularly to stimulate interest. More than 200 dealers now display antiques and collectibles for sale in the center’s warehouse. It features locked cabinets for precious items such as rare toys, glassware, silver and ceramics, as well as open booths for books, artwork, maps, furniture and vintage clothing.
“I love antiques. This store is one of the finest places to shop for them. It has a lot of variety,” said George Iacono of Norwalk, who had just purchased a pitcher with six matching glasses. “New things are always being added to the stock. I bought Victorian chairs, marble tables and clocks in the past.”
“I’m drawn to whatever catches my eye – mirrors, paintings or glassware,” said Nanci Kaczegowicz of Easton, a shopper who came to browse. “My taste changed over the years from teacups to more rustic items. You can always make more money, but you can’t always find the treasure.” Kaczegowicz said her finds at the center have included a huge iron caldron and a colored, flower-shaped glass-and-brass lamp from the 1930s. She brings her 6-year-old son, Christopher, with her to shop, to allow him to learn about and appreciate antiques. “He can always find something to buy for about $2,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rob and Diana Runge of New Jersey worked on a display of antique Christmas decorations from around the world in one of their two booths “We display items at other antique malls in Stamford and New Jersey, but this one is our most successful location,” Diana Runge said. “We come every couple weeks to restock. “The place is professionally run. The personnel treat everything on display as if it were their own.”
Rob Runge sells Stangl dinnerware and decorative pottery, including popular bird figurines. He also writes books about these items.
“This place is definitely a treasure trove where anyone can find something they like,” said Frances Cotumaccio, a dealer from Long Island. “I mostly sell furniture, but I have now added some Victorian velvet clothing and vintage fur coats, old game boards, a dry sink with zinc liner and Christmas ornaments to my booth.”
Donald Brutkowski, a Milford home remodeling contractor, also deals in antiques at the center. “I enjoy buying and selling handmade, nice-quality furniture,” Brutkowski said, showing off an art deco oak hutch with leaded glass doors at his booth. He said he originally found the hutch covered with brown paint, which he carefully removed to restore it for sale.
Jan and Ken Wynn, of Stratford, who have been in the antique business many years and once had a shop in Bridgeport’s Black Rock section, said they were inspired to create the center after visiting an antiques mall in New Bedford, Mass., many years ago. “Ken thought up the idea for this center, because there was nothing like it around here. Now, there are more places like this, including one in Stamford,” Jan Wynn said. The Wynns said their center has attracted treasure-seekers from every state in the nation, as well as many countries.
Dealers at the center all put tags with codes on their items so that they can be purchased through Carol Hecht, the sales manager, or other personnel. No commissions are charged on top of the sale price. Jan Wynn said dealers at the center pay low rents to display their wares and do not have to sit all day to watch or sell them. Shoppers may still negotiate prices by leaving messages with center personnel for dealers, especially on big-ticket items. The patrons may also put aside items they may not have the money to purchase immediately, Wynn said. She said shoppers may also purchase gift certificates for family members or friends.
While selling antiques during the holidays, the center collects Christmas gift donations each year for homeless families and their children at the Bethlehem House shelter on Jackson Avenue. A Christmas tree by the center’s entrance is decorated with paper stars on which gift ideas are written. A shopper or dealer can take a star and bring the gift it suggests to the center. “We have a big wrapping party. Each person on our list gets clothing, food or a special item,” Jan Wynn said.
Re-printed with permission