A marketplace for nostalgia

Retail: For four years, Spenceola Antique Center in Forest Hill has offered patrons a venue to find a memorable link to the past.

July 18, 2004|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For people seeking a tangible reminder of their past, the Spenceola Antique Center in Forest Hill might be a place to look.

The 22,000-square-foot facility in Rock Spring Shopping Center, a former supermarket, is home to about 150 dealers offering furniture, china, glassware, pottery, household goods and toys.

Kim Street, the manager of the center and daughter of one of its owners, said most of the dealers have been active there since the shop opened four years ago.

Street said the period between now and September is considered the busiest.

"We are inundated with summer tourists in addition to people we label regular customers. Our dealers delight in the increased traffic," she said.

The idea of the Spenceola center originated with Street's father, Richard, who in 1994 was looking for a use for a 2,000-square-foot building on Bynum Road, which once housed a cannery.

Street contacted a friend, Bob Hockaday.

After much discussion, the two decided to restore the Bynum Road building and open an antiques center. Hockaday, an estate attorney and an antiques dealer, saw a need for such a facility.

"I thought having a place other than on Main Street in Bel Air was needed," Hockaday said. "It caught on quickly. We had enough room for 15 dealers and, six years later, we recognized we needed a larger facility."

The Rock Spring facility sits on property that was once owned by the Street family's ancestors.

"My maternal grandfather, Cecil Clyde Spencer, owned 250 acres, which stretched from Bel Air's northern boundary to Forest Hill," said Richard Street. "He raised cattle and grew wheat, corn and tomatoes for many years."

Street is proud of the success his daughter, Kim, has enjoyed at the center. He credits the success to her relationship with the dealers.

Speaking for the dealers, Kit Mueller agrees.

"This is a wonderful place to display our products. We have dealers who have established a tremendous customer base," she said.

Mueller entered the business in 1990 with a small location on Main Street in Bel Air.

"It was ideal for me when I started in the business but has obvious drawbacks," she said, noting a lack of parking and room for expansion.

"By the time this place opened, I was ready to make the move," said Mueller, who said she began appreciating old furniture as a girl growing up in Woodmore, N.Y.

"I think I was in the fifth grade and one of my friends lived in a house that was full of old furniture," she said. "I later found out that most of the furniture dated to the mid-1800s."

Mueller deals in furniture.

Meuller spends a lot of time purchasing items from people who have been given her name by her customers.

"It's important that [the dealers] have reputations of being honest," she said. "After all, they are selling items that have some family history.

"Conversely, the people who purchase antiques do so because of a link to their past. They're buying memories," Mueller said.

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