Antique shops are places that visitors seek out to find the hidden gems of a community that present not only a monetary value but also a historical or cultural significance.
Where antique shops in bigger cities will often specialize in selling certain kinds of antiques, “that doesn’t work here,” states Paul Kimberly, who owns and the runs the unique, second-hand shop with his wife Lee Searles. They call themselves “generalists,” a term applied to many collectors.
The tightly packed shop is an eclectic organized mix of thousands of fascinating objects from the past. “We specialize in clutter,” jokes Lee. Yet nearly every item has been scrutinized and priced accordingly to a market value that can change dramatically with a generational turn of interest.
Paul is fascinated by the upswing in sales due to Millennials' sudden interest in collecting, which is knowledgeable and precise. “They are interested in a completely different set of collectables than the previous generation and they’re still developing their taste. They’re very specific with what they want. They’ll wait to buy the right piece at the best piece, but they’ll buy only one.”
Past generations would collect dozens of one item, from the well worn to the rare unpackaged first edition. Today the focus is on the homemade and handmade, so different kinds of objects are selling like hotcakes, such as anvils. “They’re blacksmithing. They’re making things and restoring things for themselves,” says Paul.
Artisans will refabricate tarnished silver spoons and forks into steampunk-like jewelry and costume adornments. Called “altered art,” the crafters rely on NOS (New Old Stock) MIB (Mint in Box), OAK (One of A Kind) or any number of acronyms applied to the variety of objects found in the shop.
To list what Black Cat sells would be exhausting, as they have everything from cheap toys to high-end diamond rings and an Etruscan jug from 500 B.C. Paul jokes that his shop is like a TARDIS, which is Dr. Who’s time machine, bigger on the inside than on the outside. The joke leads to a discussion about the shop’s biggest fans; children. Many are Whovians (Dr. Who fans). “Kids are often repeat customers or gazers,” says Paul. “Children love antique shops.”
Lee and Paul get much of their business from downsizing in the United States, clearing a house of certain objects or doing a “broomclean,” where they find ways to sell or dispose of everything, “from the crown jewels to the half-used box of Tide,” says Paul. And they do about 70% of their shop sales online.
If you’re planning on visiting the shop on a visit to Thunder Bay, Paul suggests, “Come in with some time on your hands. And if you’re looking for something, ask.” No doubt, like the kids who fall in love with the place, you will go in curious and come out educated.