FLINT, NY – An eclectic antique store, Carriage Factory Antiques in Flint, New York, sells a bit of everything: furniture, coins, souvenirs, housewares and farm tools. Shop owner Charlie Foster estimates he has around 10,000 items for sale. He took over the store in 2001 as a retirement business. Antiques remind him of his childhood.
âI grew up with antiques,â he says. âMy parents inherited things from their parents and grandparents. “
His parents operated a farm, so including farm implements with other antiques makes perfect sense to him. His experience also helps him identify many obscure farm implements.
âEvery once in a while I have something that I don’t know and I put a sign on it saying, ‘What is this?’ “, he said. âI searched with Google photos. But, it’s more fun having someone to make guesses. They remember the place after that.
In addition to this method of customer engagement, he has a huge deer statue outside the store that helps passers-by to notice and remember his store. The building itself is an older one in the neighborhood, perched on the side of the road. It once housed a car factory, but at first Foster only accepted this as hearsay.
âI looked at the ancient history of the area, but couldn’t find anything substantial about the history of the building,â Foster said.
A customer once told him that the place was in the stagecoach line and that his great-great-grandfather had operated the car factory in the building. She eventually shared a stack of photos with him, as well as the story she had recorded of her grandfather.
âShe sent me pictures of him in 1850, upstairs (in the building) making parts for wagons and barrels,â Foster said. âHis brother had a forge where the alley is. In the photos she sent, you could see mud. It was a stagecoach line from Albany to Buffalo.
Before Foster became the owner of the antique store, an older couple operated it. They have become unable to include furniture in the store because old furniture can be heavy and difficult to move. When Foster took the reins, he expanded the store’s furniture offering, which became popular with customers looking for quality pieces.
âWhen you walk into chipboard furniture, it was inferior compared to well-made antique furniture,â he said. âFurniture is made to be bought and put in one place, not moved. You see a lot of people moving from year to year and buying new, inexpensive furniture because they twist, carry, and drop (chipboard furniture). With old furniture, it’s dovetail and mortise. It is better quality. Even until the 1950s they had very sturdy and well made maple.
âWe try not to be too expensive,â he said. âWe sell good furniture for less. We passed furniture on to our children and they passed it on, like a maple chest of drawers. You could stand on the drawers and not destroy it.
The antiques trade
He learned about antiques and prices through price comparisons over the years. He reads Antique Trader Weekly to help him evaluate articles more accurately. He also maintains a few contacts in the company for more obscure articles with which he is not familiar.
Many of its artifacts are 100 years or older, although a few mid-century coins are found among coins, collectibles, and household items.
âWe had to diversify a bit,â Foster said. “Antiques get a bad rap for being too expensive and not as good.”
One of his notable pieces is an unsigned blown glass vase believed to be from Corning Glass. The world-renowned glassware company is currently selling comparable new items for over $ 1,000. Foster valued his at $ 895.
âIt couldn’t have been made by an amateur glassblower,â he said. âThey did a fantastic job on it. We couldn’t find anyone who knows who did it.
The piece comes from a real estate sale in Rochester. These sales are a primary source of antiques for the Foster store.
In addition to his store, he occasionally sells a bit on eBay and maintains a shelf or crate of items at a few other stores in the area.
While most of his interactions with buyers are enjoyable, he has had a few weird ones.
âI’ve had someone write a bad review advising someone not to come here,â Foster said. âThey said the owner had gone mad and they feared for their lives. What they didn’t say was that they stole something. I didn’t even touch them.
Foster is reviving business by organizing a perpetual sale.
âIt’s still 20% off,â he said. âWe do the price at which it should sell, and then we take a 20% reduction. “
The urgency of a sale helps some buyers on the fence make their decision that day.
The antiques trade has been slow for the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made customers tired of staying at home. When the store closed for a few months during quarantine, Foster took the opportunity to revamp the store, install new lighting and carpeting, and in another way improve the store’s appearance.
âDuring the summer it’s great because there are a lot of travelers and people passing by,â Foster said.
His store is located on New York State Highways 5 and 20, a busy rural route. For marketing, Foster relies on his billboard, as well as advertisements in the Sunday Driver, an antique industry periodical. He believes he gets a better deal with the periodical’s long-running ads than those in tourist brochures that only offer seasonal exposure. He also has a Facebook page.
Despite the difficulties, Foster continues to operate the store. He enjoys talking with customers, he said, especially “the old ones.” They are the ones who know. The old veterans are full of knowledge. It’s common knowledge to them, but it’s not in our vocabulary today.
âI like to learn different things,â he said.