The end of Antique Alley

The loss of the Cloverdale's two largest outlets signals the end of the road for antique alley, the historic town centre's top-billed tourist attraction.

Two years after initiating the process of winding the business down, it’s suddenly the end of the line for Red Barn Antiques.

The landmark heritage building at 5566 176 Street, home to what was once Canada’s largest antique store and certainly one of its finest, sold two weeks ago, owner Leigh Carnegie has confirmed.

In 90 days, and after 42 years in business – 38 of them in Cloverdale – the familiar Red Barn will shut its doors to make way for the new owner, a “big furniture company” who sells modern furniture.

“We’ve had a great run,” Carnegie said.

The closing out sale began in 2009, ushering discounts of 30 to 50 per cent on some items.

Much like the liquidation sale currently drawing brisk business over at the Cloverdale Antique Mall, the Red Barn was overcome with customers looking for a deal.

At the time, Carnegie didn’t blame the antique market. Rather, as the only family member left running the massive retail operation started by his parents Bill and Dorothy, he was ready to wind things down.

The huge antique and collectible store – famed for its paint job, maze-like showrooms, and unmatched collection of memorabilia, from soda fountains and totem poles to old-fashioned gas pumps and Chinatown phone booths – was a favourite source of props for movie crews filming and discerning collectors from across North America.

The plan was to slowly sell off the merchandise, and then the building. Carnegie, one of five siblings, said it took time for the family to agree to the sale. It was put on the market a few months ago.

Now that the property has sold, a massive clearance sale has begun to get everything out in time.

The new owner plans to start renovations at the end of May.

“Now it’s really true,” Carnegie said. “We’re definitely going out of business and that’s the way it is. There’s no turning back.”

The barn is still home to the unique inventory that made it a one-of-a-kind destination, although the merchandise has thinned out, according to Carnegie.

“It was jammed in here. There was like 30, 40 gas pumps like that one,” he said, pointing to poster paint-hued early 1900s model. “Now everything’s changed in here. It’s dramatically reduced.”

Once news of the sale spreads, collectors will snap up collectibles in good condition, even though they’re expensive. “It’s going to look gutted, fast.”

He’s taken on virtually no new stock in two years, except for consignment items in the main furniture storeroom.

Everything must go – the wooden carousel horses and neon signs, the 1800s general store coffee grinders, and the home kit Piper replica plane with 400 hours of flying on it (it was $8,500; now 50 per cent off. As is. Some additional assembly required).

The store houses a saloon, auto garage and soda fountain –  showcases built by Carnegie and filled with vintage collectibles, right down to the advertisements on the walls.

“People come in and they just think they’re in a little village,” he says.

In some respects, it’s more museum than retail outlet. Carnegie just calls it, “Rich junk.”

There’s old-fashioned prairie sideboards, 25-cent grocery store amusement rides, roll top desks, giant wooden wardrobes, bound newspapers, stained glass church windows, sheet music and a wooden jukebox – the last of Carnegie’s proud collection.

Red Barn Antiques has long been a favourite stop for shoppers. “They do the flea market and then they come here. It’s their Sunday outing,” says Carol Lirette, one of four employees who will be losing their jobs when the store closes.

“Cloverdale’s going to die down a bit because of this,” she says.

She was terrified of dropping something expensive when she started, but “Leigh told me not to worry.” Every day brought a new adventure. Once a guy walked in with a parrot on his shoulder. “We get a lot of creative people in here,” she adds, listing artists, actors and doctors among the clientele.

Kids often shout, “Mom, look at this!” They don’t know what they’re pointing at, but they’re excited.

She knows of a couple of youngsters – regulars – who are already hooked. One collects Coca Cola bottles and other “high end” stuff, she says.

Business is quieter than it used to be, though interest in memorabilia is picking up thanks to shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers, which has spawned a Canadian version premiering in April.

“People are watching their dollars,” Carnegie says, adding economic news out of the U.S. continues to look bleak. Internet sales through sites like eBay and Craigslist transformed the antique and collectible industry, which was booming as recently as 10 years ago, he said. Suddenly, what was “rare” wasn’t rare for a collector with a web browser and PayPal account.

Carnegie, 60, has no immediate plans other than to take six months off after the barn closes down.

His parents operated the Pioneer Shop in North Vancouver for five years before moving to Cloverdale. They bought the original heritage barn, adding a second barn as business grew. For a time, Red Barn Antiques was the largest antique store in Canada, flourishing along with the smaller stores here.

As recently as November, Cloverdale was being referred to as the antique epicentre of B.C. on blogs. And the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce still calls Cloverdale the “Antique Capital of Canada” on its website.

But the chamber’s executive director – and original owner of the Cloverdale Antique Mall and Auction – Bill Reid, acknowledges the loss of the two largest outlets here signals the end of the road for antique alley – the historic town centre’s top-billed tourist attraction.

“We’re almost there now,” he said, adding Cloverdale’s down to just two remaining dealers, Wayne Sutherland of Cloverdale Antiques and Fine Art, and Jack Wardrop, of Jack’s Place Antiques and Collectibles.

Carnegie, on the other hand, predicts the business will simply evolve back to little shops. “It’ll level off and come back stronger than ever.”

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