by Jay Blotcher
If the sight of vintage items quickens your pace, the Antiques Barn at Water Street Market in New Paltz is a worthy destination for a lazy afternoon of exploration. No matter what your fetish, whether Mid-Century ash trays or Victorian song sheets, Mammy salt shakers, or 1970s martini glasses, the numerous nooks and crannies of the barn are sure to hold what you crave.
Unlike the typical junque stores where items are stacked willy-nilly, the Antiques Barn encourages its 26 separate vendors to display their treasures with great respect in the stalls throughout the two-story building.
As you rummage through the stacks of merchandise, it is impossible to avoid getting a history lesson in the process. Best of all, repeated visits will yield more goodies, as Antiques Barn dealers replenish their stock continuously.
The ringmaster of this revolving exhibition is Walter Marquez. No matter what your particular obsession, Marquez, himself a fervent collector, will treat you with patience, empathy and his signature indulgent smile. He is a marvelous enabler, always eager to connect customers with that prized item they have been searching out for years. In fact, the minute you walk through the door, you will encounter Marquez’s own signature collection: plastic Santa Claus figurines that he has been gathering for many years. The group stands at 600 jelly-bellied St. Nick’s, sadly reduced from a tally of 900. The decimation was the result of last year’s Hurricane Irene flooding.
No judgments about hoarding will be brooked in this establishment. If you simply want to talk about your latest find, Marquez will listen with unfeigned enthusiasm.
“I consider myself lucky in that I enjoy my job,” Marquez said. “I work six days a week, but I never dread going in. People come in every day and they like to reminisce about the items belonging to their parents or grandparents. These items bring back good thoughts and memories.”
Marquez has been in the retail world for three decades. He was first the manager of the Huckleberry Finn chain of houseware stores, where he ran three stores. When the company folded in the late 1980s, Marquez shifted to work as a kitchen designer and eventually the manager of a kitchen showroom in Middletown.
It eventually dawned on Marquez, a passionate antiques collector, that he could make a living on items that usually dominated his off-hours. So when a friend planned to open an antique store in New Paltz in 1999, Marquez agreed to rent a stall from him and also work a few days every week.
The Antiques Barn opened in October of 1999 and Marquez took over in 2004.
His personal enthusiasm guided the growth of business—with positive results. “I personally try to buy things that I think people will enjoy and I always try to put a fair price on the item,” he said. “As I tell my dealers, Antiques Barn is not a museum; we all want inventory to move along because there’s always more to bring in to sell.”
Accessibility is another important factor in keeping traffic in the store. Individual stalls are set up almost like department store displays, items installed on tabletops or in glass showcases to look their best. Touchability, Marquez said, is a key factor in sales.
“People like the thought of touching and feeling the items.”
While the meteoric rise of eBay in the mid-1990s brought memorabilia collecting into the cyber-era, simplifying searches but driving up prices, Marquez said that the phenomenon never really hurt his business.
“Sales have increased each year since I have been here,” he said. A series of community events at the Market—concerts, screenings, art shows—brings more traffic into the Barn, from SUNY students to tourists. Regulars feel they can come just to chat about their recent finds. Marquez is receptive to people who come to sell items for the barn. But he is equally motivated to venture out for scavenger hunts in cellars and attics for artifacts.
“I have to get into some dirty, nasty places at times,” he said. “But you never know what is still out there to be found. The thrill of the hunt is exhilarating and keeps us antique dealers going.”
Antiques Barn at Water Street Market
10 Main Street
New Paltz, NY 12561