Ever since the liquidation sale began, it’s been all hands on deck at the Cloverdale Antique Mall at Clover Square Village. Customers are swarming to B.C.’s largest antique mall – many of them regulars lured by the promise of 20 to 70 per cent markdowns, a sense of loyalty, and an incurable addiction to collecting one-of-a-kind items. Lines formed outside the doors that first weekend, and customers agreeably weathered hour-long queues at the till. Weeks in, it’s still busier than it’s ever been.“It’s crazy, but crazy is what we need,” said co-owner and general manager Tim Garrett, a blur of activity amid Victorian china cabinets, giant cast iron urns, solid wood dining sets, chandeliers and floor lamps, answering questions, making sales, and arranging for home deliveries – three before opening and eight that night.The 16,000 square-foot mall (including the mezzanine) is going out of business after 12 years because it can’t afford a massive hike in its lease, which is about to expire.The mall has negotiated a small extension past Feb. 28. But by March 20, the 45 full-time antique dealers (including 10 on staff who will be losing their jobs) and 300 consignment sellers will be without a home.Most, like antique jewelry dealer Joan McKita, are retiring or going out of business. A few, like Langley’s Don Goldie, a lighting expert, will be starting over on their own.With just a few weeks to go, thousands of items must go.Garrett is in overdrive to clear out his inventory, about 30 per cent of the mall’s stock. He wonders how the clientele will fare once the doors shut for good.
“They’re starting to realize that unless they just want to purchase on-line, then stores like ourselves are disappearing. Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said, “When it comes to this type of product in this type of quantities, we’re it.”People love exploring, he says. Every corner reveals a new surprise: shelves lined with rotary telephones, stalls with colourful mid-century kitchen collectibles, Hardy Boys novels, aboriginal art, cowboy hats, Expo 86 memorabilia, massive paintings in gilded frames, vinyl records, art deco lamps, and vintage porcelain tea sets all under one roof.When original owner Bill Reid opened the mall with his wife Marion in 1999, Cloverdale was home to more than a dozen antique stores, most along 176 Street, including Red Barn Antiques, now also in the process of shutting down.That will leave just two shops, signaling the end of Cloverdale’s reputation as antique alley and its star status as a must-see attraction for cruise ship passengers touring the Fraser Valley by bus, Reid said last week.“It’s pretty sad, pretty sad,” he said.Garrett agrees. “If you wanted to be in the antique business, you went to Cloverdale,” he said. “We feel very sad about the fact that we can’t continue our business here. I planned on retiring here.”The significance of the mall’s passing won’t be lost on the clientele.“For a lot of the costumers, this is their quiet time, this is their place to hide. These people come in here to relax. It’s generally a pretty quiet place to be.”Weeks into the liquidation sale, the sheer magnitude of items left to be sold remained impressive. “Our tag line has always been thousands of items, millions of memories,” Garrett says.Have anyone ever done an estimate? “No. Well, maybe after a couple of glasses of wine on occasion, but nobody could ever remember the answer in the morning.”There have been some memorable items over the years, from Queen Victoria’s bloomers (“She was no petite woman,” grins Garrett, adding the gonch was legit. “They had all the proper paperwork”). “I don’t know why a pair of underwear would draw so much attention,” he says, “but it did.”Then there was the time they picked up a beat-up antique radio that didn’t even work. But it was a pretty-looking old piece, and they figured they could get a few hundred dollars for it.“Well, four days later, we sold it for $8,000,” Garrett says. It turned out to be a Zenith Stratosphere, a handsome, highly sought-after floor radio with wooden cabinetry – “the Holy Grail of floor radios”. Had it been in good working order, it would have been worth $30,000 to $40,000.Other strange items include a pair of bronze Moor statues and a life-sized iron horse. Early on, a Rolls Royce was parked inside the mall.Garrett recently sold a bedroom suite that belonged to Marion Davies, the American film star who was the long-time mistress of U.S. newspaper publishing magnate William Randolph Hurst.“It always made me wonder, because it was a pair of singles!”Vintage and antique jewelry are the mall’s most expensive items.His stock came from stores and auctions, and replicas from overseas. “Our best pieces come out of the community,” Garrett says.“People and families – just because they have the same DNA doesn’t mean they have the same opinions and taste. We can go into homes and see things that are just breathtaking but their kids don’t want them.” In speaking with the dealers and consignment sellers, Garrett has been careful not to create false hope that the business will be able to move and not close down – or reopen sometime in the near future.“Can you imagine how long it takes to build an inventory like this? You can’t phone up and say send me a thousand boxes and we’ll open them up and be in business. It just doesn’t happen that way.”Knowing that doesn’t make it easier to accept.“There was a guy I once heard say the two best days in business are the day that you open and the day that you close. “Well, for us, it was the days we have been open and the years we have been open.”