Antique Mall closing its doors March 30

News Photo by Julie Riddle A customer browses the treasures at John Henry’s Antique Mall of Alpena, which is closing at the end of the month.

ALPENA–An Alpena landmark is closing at the end of the month as John Henry’s Antique Mall of Alpena, on 2nd Avenue in downtown Alpena, will close its doors for good on March 30.

For the past 20 years, the site of the former Vaughn’s Department Store has been home to aisles upon aisles of treasures representing days gone by. In days to come, however, the 20,000-square-foot building will be empty.

For two decades, the downtown antique shop has been a favorite vacation stop for summer visitors and an afternoon’s relaxing browse for locals. John Henry Sinclair, known to many as simply John Henry, converted what was at one time a lively, two-story department store into an antique mall filled from wall to wall with items of every kind, smelling of history and heavy with stories.

At one time, the building’s lower level housed 30 to 35 vendors selling their wares. Fewer vendors own booths today, but their bounty still fills the building, offering anything from pocket watches to radio tubes to ceramic cat salt shakers.

Sinclair died in early January. The building that housed the antique store he prized is now for sale, and the vendors who gave it life are clearing away their treasures, leaving behind empty shelves and some disappointed antique aficionados.

News Photo by Julie Riddle One of the many aisles of antiques and collectibles inside John Henry’s Antique Mall of Alpena is seen on Tuesday. The store is closing March 30 after 20 years in business.

Mary Miller, of Ossineke, who has been a seller and volunteer at the store since before Sinclair took ownership, wondered about the future of antiques in today’s world. Younger generations, she feared, don’t want older things. Inspired by TV programs and magazines, today’s 20- and 30-somethings prefer to upcycle, creating quirky pieces out of old castaways, rather than collecting pieces of history.

Sales at the antique center have been sagging in recent years, Miller said. Asked about the future of antique stores, her face grew grave and her voice softened.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Miller said quietly.

A vendor worked in her aisle, readying ornate furniture, oil lamps, and regal clocks for new homes elsewhere. Some of Linda Laquerre’s items will end up in her own living room, while others will be given to grandchildren or sold on eBay.

“It’s different now …18 years ago, things would fly off the shelves,” Laquerre said. Now, she said, even classic favorites like depression glass and primitive furniture are a tough sell.

News Photo by Julie Riddle The 2nd Avenue building that currently houses the Antique Mall of Alpena is seen in this 1880s photo in the collection at the mall, which is closing March 30 after 20 years in business.

The gift of a Japanese tea set when she was 12 years old started Laquerre on a lifetime of collecting antiques.

“It gets into your blood,” Laquerre said. “You ask any dealer and they will tell you that it gets into your blood and you cannot get over it.”

While some of the mall’s inventory has been sent off to auctions already, aisles are still full of antiques ready to find a new home, at least until the end of the month. Vendors with inventory still in the store are holding going-out-of-business sales, and shoppers still wander the aisles, gently examining trinkets and baubles and pieces of the past.

David Dubuque, a longtime fill-in cashier for Sinclair, sells metal detectors that dangle on a wall, but his real passion is the 8,000 or so books, most of them out of print, that line a series of well-organized shelves in one corner of the antique mall. He makes an average profit of $450 to $500 per month from book sales, but the money is just a perk, he said.

Mainly, he just likes books.

Customers who have gotten to know him will pick up books at yard sales and bring them to Dubuque to sell from his corner. Sometimes, he loans out books or even gives them to a customer just because.

The books need a home, Dubuque said. He dreams of a buyer who will have interest in running a little used book shop, or perhaps a separate business interested in increasing foot traffic with the addition of a book nook in the back of their shop.

Meanwhile, a big building with history in its walls and stories in its ceilings is growing empty.

A buyer would be very welcome, Dubuque said. The upstairs, its wide-open spaces flooded with light from brick-rimmed crosshatch windows and its ceilings draped with peeling paint from its tin tiles, buckets set strategically to catch drips from a roof that needs to be replaced, could, with an investment of money and time, be a lovely setting for apartments with a great river view. It could also be the home of a restaurant or a store, or offices, or a studio for art or dance or daydreaming.

The wide-spread ground floor could be broken into smaller storefronts full of shops and cafes. Or, who knows, it could be used as another home for treasures from the past.

The building takes up an important footprint on a key corner that links downtown Alpena to the Thunder Bay River, according to Anne Gentry, executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority. The building’s potential as a residential and business space could add a great deal of positive energy to a part of town that has been expanding its reach in recent years.

The building would not be cheap to renovate. To help, the DDA offers grants to business owners to assist them in updating building facades. Grants are also available through the state for facade and interior projects. The building still contains historic features intact that could be restored, which Gentry sees as potentially fitting in with the mission of some of the grants that are being offered at the state level.

“With a project that large, and with a building that needs such big repairs, having that additional state funding could be really, really crucial to getting that done,” she said.

The downtown area is running out of storefronts and spaces, especially in the 2nd Avenue corridor, Gentry said. The loss of one business could, if all goes well, make room for new and exciting additions to the community.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.