Apparently Leo Walter and Eileen Moats aren’t claustrophobic.
The shop where the father-daughter team holds court, Stagecoach Antiques, is a cheerfully congested warren piled with the vestiges of Akron’s past. Stacks of teacups and saucers balance on shelves. Boxes overflow with vintage knobs and hinges. Antique frames cover the walls.
When I visited last week, I picked my way through the narrow passageways, terrified my shoulder bag would knock something precious to the ground.
No problem, Moats assured me — just the kind of welcoming attitude that undoubtedly brings customers back.
Stagecoach Antiques has been a familiar sight just west of downtown for years, its carefully orchestrated jumble of wares filling the sidewalk outside and beckoning to people passing by on West Market Street.
Although the shop has moved a few times, the business dates back to Walter’s childhood in the early 1940s. This month, Stagecoach Antiques is marking its 70th anniversary with a 50 percent discount on everything in the store.
Don’t worry. It’s not going out of business, Moats is quick to note. “Mostly we’re having it [the sale] to say thank you to the Akron community,” she said.
The anniversary prompted longtime customer Bret Hines to do a little math.
“I said to Leo, ‘Did you start when you were 10?’ ” recalled Hines, a sculptor who used to live across the street from the shop. “He said, ‘No, I was 8.’ ”
“I’m not sure he was kidding,” Hines added with a laugh.
Walter, 81, isn’t precisely sure when the whole thing started, but he knows he was just a boy when his grandmother moved in with his family and brought some furniture that Walter refinished. She also gave him some postcards, which prompted him to start collecting more.
Pretty soon he was buying antique glassware and talking his mother into turning the dining room of their house on Marshall Street into his first shop. When she got tired of ushering people through the house, the business moved to the basement.
He operated the shop until he entered the Army and went to Korea, and then returned to open a new shop where the Tangier restaurant now stands. At the same time, he worked in the family hardware business, Carlton Supply on East Market Street.
The shop moved to a couple of other locations on West Market, and eventually Walter devoted himself full time to the antiques business. In 1983, it moved to the current location at 449 W. Market St., and in 2003, Walter turned the business over to Moats.
He’s still there every day, though. “I’d go crazy if I had to stay home,” he said.
The home away from home that he and Moats share with three part-time employees is a teeming three-level shop, along with a house out back that holds larger pieces of furniture and architectural salvage. Although the shop may seem like a hodgepodge, the inventory is arranged by category, and Moats and Walter can point customers right to what they’re looking for.
There are boxes of flatware labeled by style and the year they were made. There are tens of thousands of postcards sorted in boxes by place or other topic. There are vintage hats and old tables, mirrors and player-piano rolls, heating grates and Life magazines and lighting fixtures.
An entire room is devoted to stacks of restaurant and institutional dinnerware, including red-and-white dishes from the old Sanginiti’s Restaurant and some simple white plates with a green band from the Main Street Methodist Episcopal Church.
The store keeps an inventory, but exactly how many items it has is a guess at best. “A million would be a nice number,” Moats said, “give or take a few hundred thousand.”
Walter’s most memorable item was a life-size carving of Columbus, which he spotted in the garage of an antique shop while he was vacationing years ago in Coldwater, Mich. His sister thought he was crazy to buy it, he said. The owner was thrilled to get rid of it “because her husband hated it.”
He had the carving in his front window no more than two days when an antiques dealer from Medina bought it. That dealer sold it to a museum in the Northeast, the name of which Walter can’t recall.
The shop has supplied items to films, including The Shawshank Redemption. It’s appeared in two music videos, one for Kate Tucker’s song Bullet Train and the other for the Black Keys’ Your Touch. It’s also attracted some big-name shoppers over the years, including Phyllis Diller, Debbie Reynolds and Chrissie Hynde.
Mostly, though, the shop attracts collectors searching for that elusive item, nostalgic folks who love finding things they remember from their childhoods or their grandparents’ houses, artists searching for unusual materials or just browsers who enjoy the shop’s many curiosities.
And Walter doesn’t intend to stop attending to those customers anytime soon.
“Oh, it’s so fun,” he said. “Every day is different.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.