By Thom Callahan
Back in the early 1940s,
Leo Walter’s grandmother came to live with his family, bringing along some of her furniture. Walter took on a refinishing project with some of those pieces. He found he had an affinity for restoring older furnishings, and eventually he started buying and reselling other furniture.
However, it didn’t stop at furniture because along the way he began collecting four-by-six photographs used by people to document their travel: postcards.
And there would be more items. Lots.
“My mother got tired of people coming in when I was in school and showing them things in her dining room,” Walter recalls of his entrepreneurial days at his folks’ home on Marshall Avenue.
Walter, who was in the seventh grade at the time, reached a compromise with his mother and took over half the cellar of the family home for his growing business.
“And this is what I ended up with,” says Walter.
“This” is Stagecoach Antiques.
Walter is seated with his daughter, Eileen Moats, who took over the business almost 10 years ago, in one of the Stagecoach’s rooms at 449 W. Market Street, an area one time considered the city’s Antique Row.
“I got all these shops to come in here at one time; they were all over, both sides of the street, down the alleys,” Walter says. “But during the street widening, that was murder on them so many moved to different locations.”
After Stagecoach Antiques left the cellar on Marshall Avenue, it’s relocated about five times, once doing business where Tangier now stands and has been in its current location for 35 years, Walter says.
And during all that time the loyalty of its customers has not waned, nor has Walter’s work ethic.
“We’re officially heading into our 70th year in 2013,” Moats says. “And Dad works more than I do, coming in before we officially open.”
There’s a staggering amount of items available at Stagecoach, so named because it was “catchy for the area, Western, and people would remember it,” Walter says, so finding something to do is never difficult.
The shop, which includes a second building in the back housing architectural items such as posts and windows, is a warren steeped in history, offering decade after decade of items and memorabilia.
“We fill in holes from the previous day from sales, work on displays and Dad does the out-front displays,” Moats says.
Readers are likely familiar with the groupings of furniture and accessories that play out on the sidewalk, creating a snippet of what’s to come once inside.
That’s Walter’s job. Every day the 81-year-old sets up and tears down the Stagecoach’s outdoor visual. Well, almost everything comes down.
Walter gives a smirk and says, “A few things stay out, we get hit every once in a while with scrap iron that we don’t bring in.”
And if moving things to and fro isn’t enough, the little items need attention as well.
“I put buttons together, sort postcards … there’s a thousand in a box,” says Walter, pointing to shelves lined with boxed postcards, which easily number in the tens of thousands, likely more.
And while some workers may grouse at having to perform an annual inventory, at Stagecoach it’s an “ongoing process,” Moats says.
There’s not much wiggling room in the shop, and things are placed judiciously. What’s interesting is the juxtaposition of the items, so many eras, fads and trends all sharing space.
“We never know from one day to the next what we’re going to sell; we’re so diversified,” Walter says.
A line of chandeliers hang in crystal, brass, glass, and a swag in a ’60s amber wrapped in wrought iron, like something straight from “Mad Men.”
A wall near the register contains box after box of flatware, as if the cast of
“Downtown Abbey” will be entertaining nearby.
“The Christmas season is a good gift-giving time because not everybody likes to go out and buy a gift certificate,” Moats says. “They like to personally select what they think the individual will like. And some come in for dinner or flat ware, maybe they’re serving a buffet and need more settings.”
And not everything is bought for its intended purpose. Walter acknowledges as much.
“In this business, all these things vary in demand, and this time of year we do very well in what I call oddball kinds of stuff for gifts,” he says. “And we’re always looking for off-the-wall things.”
Moats is wearing a bracelet fashioned from two fork handles and a sterling silver spoon ring, jewelry which “has had a rebirth” and popular with local artisans, she says.
Moats and Walter, who says, “I had the first-ever tag sale in Akron,” don’t do appraisals or tag sales anymore, and there’s no time for yard sales.
But if sellers are downsizing or changing collections, the two will see if there are items they can purchase for resale. Neither Walter nor Moats know for sure if a particular item will sell, but “we hope it doesn’t stay for 69 more years but you never know,” Moats says.
Long-time customer Bob Zimmerman of Silver Lake has been shopping Stagecoach since 1978. He’s the president of that city’s historical society.
On a recent stop, he chatted with Walter while unrolling some old photographs.
“I’ve got thousands of Silver Lake postcards, 600,000 baseball cards and about 25,000 baseball magazines, yearbooks and programs,” Zimmerman says. “And Stagecoach has about one of everything. Unfortunately, I am the best customer in probably eight places.”
During the nearly seven decades Walter has been in business, things inevitably have changed, starting with the Internet, which has made both buyer and seller more savvy.
“People might not realize what they have is as good as it might be, but they know it has age, value,” Walter says. “When I started, we didn’t have TV or price guides. I’ll get something in that years ago I thought was comparably rare, and Eileen can pull it up on the Internet and there’s, maybe, 40 online!”
A gentleman walks in and waves a paperback and says to Moats, “It’s mine … just waiting for the bus.”
She smiles and welcomes him.
“Some times people come in and call us their free museum,” Moats says. “They can just look around and enjoy things, get a bit of history.”
As with the items Stagecoach carries, the customers also represent generations.
“We have customers with us 30 to 40 years,” Walter acknowledges. “We don’t haggle and have one discount policy. You buy $50 or more and you get 10 percent off. We try to treat everyone the same. That’s why we’re still in business, I think.”
Stagecoach Antiques is opened Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 330-762-5422.