ALWAYS BUYING ANTIQUES

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    An Expanded History of the Wexford General Store

    There is evidence of settlers in this territory as early as 1775 or before. The main road traveled by the Indians, called the “Kushkushkee Trail”, ran from the forks of the Ohio north to the Mahoning River and a large Indian settlement there. This trail, later known as the Old Franklin Plank Road, passed through Pine Township in which the Village of Wexford is located. Over this trail came the first settlers to this section including Revolutionary War mercenaries, Hessians, Irish adventurers and ‘great Irish potato famine’ immigrants. The village, named for a city in Ireland and the only Wexford in the U.S. Post Office records, has as its heart the Wexford General Store.

    WGS - History 1900 (1)

    WGS - History 1900 (4)

     

    In early days, the store and the stable across the road provided a stage coach stop for weary travelers, pony express riders and farmers’ flocks and droves being driven to market in Fort Pitt. During its heyday the building was 50 feet longer than it is today and housed a creamery, feed mill, slaughter house, butcher shop and the post office. At one time, everything necessary for daily survival was available at this village center.

    WGS - History 1900 (2)

    WGS - History 1900 (3)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    WGS - History 1966 empty store (1)WGS - History 1966 empty store (2)

     

    For over two years this historical heirloom, scarred survivor of the past, stood empty and decaying. The old store received a new lease on life in December 1966, when it was purchased by James and Marianne Marino. As a labor of love and working on a shoestring they converted it into the first collective antique shop in Western Pennsylvania.

     

    WGS - History 1967 (1)WGS - History 1967 (3)

     

     

    Finally, keeping the original name, they opened their doors for business in May, 1967. Nostalgic old packaging and general store advertising items spanning the last 100 years are displayed in the museum section behind the counter, and the architecturally interesting and rare balcony which once held the store’s dry goods department is still intact. The other upstairs rooms originally served as living quarters for the various shop keepers along the way.

     

    WGS - History 1967 (2)

    WGS - History 1968

     

    We are approaching our 50th year in business and it is interesting to think back to 1966 when it all began. We were two kids, just married ages 22 and 25, who had acquired this great, rambling white elephant of a general store building and we had to figure out how to run our antique business out of it and pay the bills. The solution was to rent space to other folks who wanted to sell antiques and operate as individual dealers under one roof—sharing shop time and expenses…thus the first collective shop in Western Pennsylvania—perhaps in the whole state– was born.

    Our dear old store is an historic landmark, one of the oldest commercial buildings in the vicinity .Two very interesting features of the shop are the collection of general store items displayed at the front counter and the balcony that runs around the perimeter of the entire main room of the first floor. Customers enjoy looking at the antique packaging and fixtures which create an authentic, old-timey atmosphere…they say they feel as though they’ve “stepped back in time”. They like to hear about how, in days gone by, the balcony housed the dry goods department and they love to peer over the railing at the shop below.

    In 1966, shortly after we had set up residence in the six rooms of the second floor rear (just as all of the general store shopkeepers before us had done) we were paid a visit by Bud and Tommy Foster, legendary antique dealers in the neighborhood. They warmly welcomed us and offered this advice: “If you can hang on for five years you will have made it.”…..FIVE YEARS!! We were wondering where this month’s mortgage payment was coming from. We had to come up with an idea quickly and so we started an outdoor flea market around the shop building. Up until this time, there had been no flea markets here just as there were no collective shops. All shops were individually owned and operated. We baked pies and cakes all day Saturday for the Sunday event. It proved to be a great idea and when the flea market began to create traffic jams we discontinued it and some of the folks simply moved into the shop as permanent dealers.

    When we first began, back in the late sixties, the antique business was quite different and quite enjoyable. There were no giant collective malls or internet, just homey little shops in basements and garages and farm buildings. We could set out on a Monday morning with an empty truck and $100 in our pocket and by late Monday night we would have traveled far, filled up our truck with fresh merchandise and enjoyed coffee and pie with all the folks along our route. (Everyone was so friendly that they would sell us their goodies, invite us in for coffee and send us on to the next basement shop)

    In those days the whole antique experience was much more intimate and cozy……we try to maintain that “feel” in our shop to this day.

    Today, almost 50 years later, the twenty dealers in residence at the Wexford General Store, handle a general line of antiques. Since we take turns watching the shop, new merchandise is brought in every day and this is something our customers appreciate and count on. Our 20 shop keepers occupy 35 rooms in our main building and annex which they are constantly filling with quality furniture in different styles ranging from Victorian, Country, Mid-Century, Shabby-chic etc. and all of the complementing accessories such as lighting, linens architectural etc. We have folks who specialize in toys, jewelry, industrial , tools etc. We, the Marino’s, handle general line items, maintain an antique book shop and a vintage clothing boutique on the second floor and an art gallery in the annex. We also specialize in the sale and repair of stained glass.

    Business is off from a high point of ten years ago—as the economy has slowed down so has our business. Because of the interest and hard work of all of the dealers in our shop we have maintained the quality of our merchandise and our cheerful atmosphere thus assuring that our loyal customers do keep coming back. With the recession such as it is I believe that we have held up very well. When we started 45 years ago there were 28 antique shops in our area and now we are the last shop standing. (J)

    We have never kept an accurate account of the number of visitors we get in a week but my best guess is that over the weekend we have between 100 and 150 visitors and during the week at least another 150. We are always amazed at how many of the folks say “This is the first time I’ve been here!”

    And “I have been passing here for twenty years and today I decided to stop in.” The new folks never fail to ask about our history when they see the large framed photo of the shop taken at the turn-of- the-century. When leaving, they say “This is a fun place” and so our motto has always been “A FUN PLACE TO SHOP”. (J&M)

    The Wexford General Store was in a rural area in 1966 and there were still an abundance of farms at that time. Since then the area has undergone major development making our store a quaint anachronism. When we began our antique business there were still l8th century pieces to be found but we were on the tail end of that phase. Then Country Style came into vogue followed by the Oak craze. During the Oak period in the 1980’s and 90’s furniture was our mainstay. This period was followed by an interest in mid-century Modern. After that came the Shabby-chic and Industrial styles which are still going strong. We have always tried to stay aware of trends so that we could provide merchandise of interest to our customers. Over the years, through all of these periods, we have searched out unique and unusual smalls to carry us through the lean times. (J)

    The internet has definitely made a change in the antique business. It is much more difficult to buy—in the past we were able to scour the countryside for antiques, mark them up a little and pass them on to the next dealer who in turn marked them up a little more and passed them on. Now, when people are selling they ask top prices for their items based on prices they see on Ebay. Also, the Antiques Road Show has given people unrealistic expectations. In the past, there was an abundance of great stuff around but now it is more difficult having many more folks competing because of their ability to sell through on-line auctions without the expense of maintaining a shop. What hasn’t changed over all of these years is that people still love old things of quality and get a ton of fun out of finding them at our shop. The excitement of the hunt that we had at the beginning is still with us, as is the immense satisfaction of being able to provide our customers with the opportunity to find treasures from the past. (J)

    We don’t have any specific tips for running a new shop or mall, but

    when we first started out a respected and wise dealer told us to “Buy the best you can afford” and this advice has proven true to this day. Money was never our goal, we just enjoyed unearthing the past and preserving it and passing it on to our customers. We have kept our prices down on our rents and merchandise so that our dealers and customers can enjoy the same great experience that we have had in the antiques business. (J)

    Over the years the one continuing challenge we have had is finding good merchandise to offer our customers. (M)