It's all in the search

For these antique dealers, items from the past never get old

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Alleycat Antiques will never stop surprising customers.

The 4000 square-foot group shop, located near Wellington and Princess Streets, holds antiques from seven local vendors. Tucked down a long alleyway, the store’s size always gets customers.

“They always walk up and say, ‘Oh my gosh we love this space,’” Susan Goodale, owner and founder, said.

Goodale opened Alleycat 18 years ago, first as a space to sell antique paintings and frames.

With the dark exposed ceilings and creaky wooden floors, the ambience was what she envisioned for an antique store, she said.

Lamps litter the store now, along with rugs to soften footsteps. A dog or two pad around the antiques, which number in the thousands.

“I want everyone to be able leave with something,” Goodale said.

After her first year, Goodale brought in other dealers to create a large, group shop.

Goodale said she’s never regretted the decision, especially since the group frequently helps each other out.

“No dealer knows everything about everything,” she said. “You get a broader sense of style of antiques than if you were one dealer in one store.”

From vintage clothing to delicate china, each dealer has their unique specialty and personal love of antiques. This much is clear after a conversation with anyone from the store.

Gayle Dawdy

Gayle Dawdy spends most days sifting through other people’s clothes.

Some of them go for sale on the multiple racks of clothes in Alleycat. Other items remain in the glass counter near the front of the store, a grand showcase of unique costume jewelry and vintage handbags.

Dawdy, who started Kate’s Vintage Closet in Alleycat insists it’s not all about the display — she said it’s the search for items that’s the real fun.

“I do a lot of house calls [to pick up clothes],” she said. “A lot of people call me and say … they’re downsizing or someone’s passed away.”

When Dawdy bought her first antiques at the age of 18 — a rocking chair and two vases — there was no way of knowing her hobby would lead her to Alleycat.

Dawdy leads me through the lines of clothing racks that stand out in the shop full of old furniture and fragile collectibles.

Named after the Dawdys’ daughter, the Closet boasts items such as neatly-arranged 1920s velvet hats to vintage sunglasses.

“Look at this dress.” From the rack, she pulls a black A-line dress with a fitted bodice. “It’s a 1960s dress that’s still in style today, and it’s so cute, eh?”

Dawdy puts the dress back among many unique pieces that fill Kate’s. They’re sold to a variety of customers that have walked into Alleycat Antiques over the years.

“There were a couple of girls here the other day and they’re starting a tea party,” she said, adding that they found vintage dishes and teaspoons for their monthly event.

Antiquing doesn’t just come down to buying an item for its initial appearance. While it’s possible to alter nearly any item, it’s up to a customer to decide how to customize a vintage item.

One customer, Dawdy tells me, is a ballroom dancer who gets each vintage piece custom-fitted for her performances. Otherwise, Dawdy said she helps point customers in the right direction when it comes to certain pieces of clothing or furniture.

“A lot of people come in and they can’t see something,” she said. “That’s where I come in.”

Gary Dawdy

Gary Dawdy has tried never to fall in love — with his furniture, that is.

“You’ve got to remember, do not fall in love with this stuff,” he said. “This is your living. You have to sell everything.”

It started when Dawdy, who is married to Gayle, bought a new home from an antique dealer.

According to Dawdy, the house’s style, with its pine walls, meant that it needed antique furnishings.

But he didn’t know what an antique was until an auction in the late 1970s, where he bought pieces for that home.

It’s an unexpected start for Dawdy, who said he still enjoys antique dealing decades after.

“I always say God put me on the Earth to be an antique dealer,” he said.

Now the house, shared with his wife, is filled with primitive furniture, a style that uses wood painted with unsaturated colours for a rustic feel.

We walk around his items in Alleycat. The area is lined with glass cases that hold collectible vases, among other things — items for the serious antique collector.

“They know what they’re looking [for],” he said.

On the way through the aisles, we pass by a 1950s vending machine. Paint job fading with age, it sits waiting for someone who could see it in their “man cave,” as Dawdy describes it.

The vending machine is only one part of a collection that numbers in the thousands.

There’s a working jukebox for sale too, along with a water buffalo foot. It sits on the bottom shelf of a locked case, sure to spark questions from passing customers.

It’s easy to see why Dawdy, who used to work for a telecom company, feels best as an antique dealer. He knows a lot about each piece in his collection — how he came upon it, what era it’s from and how much it costs to make it yours.

He said it helps with the diverse clientele that come into Alleycat.

“Every walk of life, people collect antiques,” he said.

Ted Watson

Ted Watson was working on a crossword puzzle when I first meet him at Alleycat.

He greets me from the back of the store, sitting at a low wooden dining table with his copy of the Globe and Mail. The antique dealer gets up, leaving his crossword puzzle to make his way over.

“Now what’s interesting about me,” he said, pondering for a while. “I’m 83 and I started collecting antiques when I was a kid.”

He grew up surrounded by a big family, he tells me, with grandparents who had their own fondness for antique furniture. It only made sense that Watson would fall in love with the same things.

Watson, who has been at Alleycat for about 15 years, began antiquing whilst growing up in Toronto.

“On Queen Street in Toronto, there’s all sorts of stores to go into, so I’d buy lamps and paintings and things,” he said.

He stands in his part of Alleycat, surrounded by tables of china dishware and walls of oil paintings. We stop mid-conversation to survey the collection.

“I just love paintings,” he said, then stopping to admire one of a woman who looks mid-dance.

“Look at that,” he said. “I think that’s just marvelous.”

After getting married, it was his first house that really put things into motion, however.

“I got [furniture] from the attics and basements of my relatives, and they were antiques,” he said. “And then I fell in love with them and I’m still in love with them.”

Watson is enthusiastic. He picks up piece after piece to describe their backstories with detail.

He holds up a small white plate with a scenery painting on it.

“I’ve been doing things so often I can tell it’s made in 1820, in England,”

He turns it over as if to verify, even though he knows that he’s right.

I ask him how he came upon it.

He’s quiet as he searches his memory. There’s only the hum of a vacuum cleaner in the other room. The floor creaks as he shifts his feet, dismissing the question.

“Oh I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been buying things for so long, I can’t even remember.”

A guide for the new antiquer

Antiquing can be an intimidating task for anyone. With a multitude of old, beautiful objects in front of you, it’s hard to know how to find a good antique. Armed with these tips, even students on a limited budget can get started on a potentially life-long hobby.

1. Do your research. Take a few minutes before setting out to look up local antique retailers. Use this time to also look up eras you’re interested in. This will make it easier to find something that’s more your taste.

2. Ask questions. When you’re in an antique shop, it’s very likely that the dealer or store owner will know the back story behind every item you see. This will give you a good chance to learn about your purchase. Who knows? It might make a good conversation starter.

3. Look for quality. With furniture, make sure it can withstand whatever you put it through. Buying a dresser? Play with the drawers. A chair? Sit on it, lean back, rock — whatever you can think of. With clothes, check for missing buttons or loose stitching. Make sure the garment’s fabric can put up with regular use.

4. Visualize. Sometimes it can be hard to see what an antique can be in your home. Try on garments to see how they can be altered to your correct fit, or a more modern style. Certain furniture pieces can be repurposed, like an antique door as a headboard.

5. Be patient. It can take a long time to be comfortable with antiquing. The learning process is long, tough and can involve a lot of mistakes when it comes to spending your money on items. Take your time to accumulate knowledge over the years. Start with small antique purchases, like costume jewelry or dishware, so that you can one day build up the big stuff.

Janina Enrile

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