After retiring from a career in finance, 13 years ago Debbie Santucci happily welcomed a first love into her life, antiques — and getting to live her dream everyday made perfect sense.
“I figured it would be a great hobby and I work harder now than when I was in finance,” Santucci says. “I made some contacts in the business, and I was in a few centers and didn’t like the way they were run so I decided to open my own, Main Street Antiques.”
If you have something specific or unique in mind, that perfect set of China, antique dresser or pendant — set aside an afternoon to go exploring and you might just uncover all kinds of vintage riches.
While it may seem like a leap, Santucci says she always had an interest in antiques.
“I had an aunt that had antiques in her house and every time we went, I would touch and look at everything. Just had an appreciation for the age and beauty of the porcelains and the furniture, how much more well made it was than what we had at home ‘cause my mother was not into antiques at all.”
This was back in the 60s and the future antique owner says she was intrigued by the carved pieces of furniture from that time.
Sure, every kind of website out there is hocking antiques, but what’s better than seeing these gems up close. When it comes to antiques, there’s something to fit every style and budget.
To be considered antique an item must be 100-years-old.
“When you hold something like that in your hand that’s not made today it’s just a special feeling,” Santucci says.
There are many reasons why someone is drawn to antiques.
“The people that bring that kind of stuff in — it could be this little old lady and she’ll start talking about how she can remember using this on the table when she was a kid and how her mother treasured the silver. You just don’t get that anymore.”
Frank Kane taught Santucci everything she knows.
According to Santucci, they were buying together. But she started the business and actually owns the whole building.
“I figured if you’re gonna do it, just go all in,” she says.
Jack Dorner started buying from Santucci from the time she first opened.
The Montclair designer also knew Kane, who suggested he check out the setup at Main Street Antiques.
“There can’t be enough antique centers for me,” Dorner says. “I try to go back once a month to see what they have that works into my collections.”
And those collections are vast.
“I collect Oriental things, some small glass, Chinese and Japanese porcelain, English Basalt, Grand Tour souvenirs (tabletop items).
The Center specializes in the purchase and sale of high end antiques and jewelry. They also handle estate sales.
“We’ll go out to the house and buy one or two items or if the house is great, buy everything,” Santucci says. “We always make some sort of a deal if we can.”
When it comes to some of her bestselling items, it depends on when you were born.
“With the millennials what we sell to them is name recognition,” Santucci says. “I have some Chanel bags, the Fendis. Put that in the window, they come in — and a lot of ‘em come back; it’s amazing.
“I can’t tell you how many mothers come in and say, ‘I have all this China and my kids don’t want it,’” she says, adding there are some items you can steer them to, while others just don’t fly.
Pricing is very faceted.
“We can buy from $10 and buy things that are thousands of dollars,” Santucci says. “Then we just pass it on to the next dealer. If we bought a whole lot, usually we make out okay, then we can donate what’s left.”
The antique owner says they work very well with people and it’s not necessary to make an appointment.
“Just come in, bring it in — and if we’re open we’ll look at whatever you have,” she says. “If they want us to come out to their house, we’ll go out to their house. We try to make people as comfortable (as possible) ‘cause it’s such a personal thing — you’re selling your stuff.”
After being involved with antiques all these years Santucci still loves that it’s like a treasure hunt.
“I like offering a fair price, hate the negotiation of selling,” she says. “When you have something worth $150 and someone offers you half and you’re still trying to be nice when you’re saying, ‘no’ — it’s tough.”
Bruce Nach enjoys his line of work and appreciates the perks of being a dealer at Main Street Antiques Center.
“I do a lot with costume jewelry, Debbie does a lot with costume jewelry, but there might be a lot that Debbie doesn’t want ‘cause I also do flea markets,” Nach says.
Recently when a woman stopped in with some jewelry, the Little Falls dealer passed because a lot of it was broken and not what he needs right now.
“We have so much and when you have so much you have to be a little picky,” he says.
According to Dorner, Main Street Antiques has been a great resource for his custom-made finial business and beyond.
“That’s one of the categories I always look for,” he says. “They have very nice jewelry, I’ve bought beautiful rings there. I bought a beautiful watch there. I like giving antiques for Christmas gifts so if I see something that I know would appeal to one of my friends — I’ll buy it because I’d rather give a really quality antique as a gift than go to a department store and buy somebody a shirt.”
And Dorner says the assortment changes frequently.
“When I go there, I’m not looking at the same stuff over and over and over again,” the designer says. “They’re very good at rotating merchandise. “The dealers that I’ve met — and I think that I’ve met most of them are just really nice people.”
He can spend hours at the Center, including an hour looking at the cases and another hour talking to them about antiques or what’s going on in politics.
“It’s kind of a home away from home for me,” Dorner says. “It’s relaxing and I find that antiques are very edifying because you learn so much from the dealers about what you’re buying or what you’re interested in.
He calls them a very knowledgeable group of people.
“They’ve all been in the business a very long time,” Dorner says. “If they don’t know about what the piece is — than nobody does.”
Many years ago, Santucci went into a consignment shop, where she bought a cut glass decanter.
“We weren’t sure of the pattern and it had all this damage,” she says. “We were like, ‘let’s just put it on eBay, and whatever it goes for it goes for.’”
They finally closed out the sale on September 12, 2001.
“And it sold for $12,000,” Santucci says, adding that they paid $80 for the piece.
They later found out it was the Meriden Jewel pattern with the stopper cut to match the base.
“So somebody stayed late at work and just cut it. It probably was a piece they took home themselves but the fact that the stopper was so rare and it went out to California, we were worried,” Santucci says. “We were like, ‘we’re not spending the money ’til this guy comes back.’”
He did and the antique dealer says the man was pleased with the piece.
If it didn’t sell the day after the towers came down, Santucci says Kane was willing to up their price to $14,000.
“That was probably my biggest profit margin,” she says.
Then there are those times when Santucci determines a piece just isn’t worth it.
“We just say it’s too new or this isn’t really quality and if you have other stuff bring it, don’t be discouraged. Most people are very understanding.”
According to Santucci, some customers start their antique journey by buying lower-end pieces.
“Like if we buy Depression glass, we try to educate them up into maybe buying Sven or Lalique, we try to show them the higher end, nicer stuff that’ll hold the value,” she says.
Dorner is starting another company designing custom made shower curtains from original art and he says Main Street Antiques is a critical resource.
“Antique stores are really my main haunts. I can’t remember a time when I’ve gone in there and haven’t found something either for one of my collections or for my finial business or shower curtain business,” he says.
Nowadays you can find just about anything online.
“The Internet did hurt this business because nothing’s rare anymore,” Santucci says. “You still have to have the knowledge of what you’re selling. The Majolica and the pottery — that kind of stuff is just dead. I can always sell silver online.”
One has to have a certain taste for classic antiques, because the changing climate of the business has taken on a different model.
But Santucci learns something new everyday, there’s a certain nostalgia that accompanies selling antiques and she says you meet a lot of interesting people.
“When the little old lady comes in and she gets to tell me her story and I remember,” she says. “A lot of times something like the piece of silver — I’ll take it home and won’t sell it and every time I look at it l think of that little old lady. I have a lot of things in my house like that. To me, that’s what this whole business is about.”
IF YOU WANT TO GO
Main Street Antiques Center
87 Main St, Little Falls