A New Life For Old ThingsAugust 3, 2013
Story by April Dittmer
Photos by Rachel Mummey
Mary Beth Edwards and Marsha Seifert love to give old things a new life. The two do so nearly every day as part of their jobs.
Mary Beth owns 231 Antiques and More in Haysville and Marsha works at the store with her.
On a Friday in June the two were working to give two longtime occupants of the store — a wooden rocking chair and a 1970s desk — new looks and some new life. Mary Beth and Marsha, both 50, have a weekly “arts and craft day” where they paint furniture that has been sitting in the store for several months without being purchased.
“We like to make use of something that was no good to someone else,” Marsha said as she sat on the ground behind the store painting the rocking chair white.
Even the paint they used was once discarded but had been salvaged by the two women.
“We have to make our own colors because we use paint from everywhere,” Mary Beth said. They often pick up paint from recycling centers that otherwise would have to pay to dispose of it.
The two women from Portersville came together by chance over a bucket of homegrown strawberries and have become the closest of friends. Both lost their jobs in 2011 and weren’t sure where they were headed. During her time without work, Mary Beth came “walking down the road with a bucket of strawberries” to visit new neighbor Marsha, who had moved from Jasper. It was over those shared strawberries that the idea for Mary Beth’s store began.
The pair complement each other perfectly. As they painted the furniture, the tales they told of their business flowed seamlessly from one to the other as they finished each other’s thoughts and sentences. Mary Beth jokes that their husbands — Paul Edwards and Kevin Seifert — are “a bit jealous because we’re so compatible.”
Mary Beth’s love of antiques began long ago. She went to her first auction when she was 15. Her one and only purchase was two cases of blue Ball canning jars for $1. A young Mary Beth thought those 48 jars were beautiful.
“I was hooked,” Mary Beth said of her first auction experience. “Once you start this, you’re hooked.”
Before the store opened, Mary Beth and Marsha had the opportunity to attend auctions together, something that doesn’t happen much now because the store is open seven days a week. Their loading process after an auction is one that draws attention from skeptical passersby.
“(Marsha) has to get in and put her seat belt on and then I load her up,” Mary Beth said as she described the process.
When the women purchase entire estates they sometimes have to set about working to clear out houses that have sat empty for years. This could mean piles of junk in every corner full of bugs and spiders. Oftentimes something of great value can be found among the heaps of trash.
Though the women sometimes have assistance on these types of jobs, they prefer to do most of the work themselves.
“If we have to ask for help, we just feel like it wasn’t as fun,” Marsha said. “The adventure wasn’t there.”
Chuck Engelbrecht’s knowledge of antiques was gained from the farm he grew up on. He said the farm itself was an antique.
His childhood home near Dale, where he still resides with his wife, Sue, was built in 1889 and its contents are just as old. The harvest table in the home’s kitchen dates to the 1700s.
“My dad was a hard-headed German who didn’t believe in replacing anything,” Chuck said.
Chuck, 67, now uses the knowledge he gained about antiques to buy and resell them at the store he and his wife own in Huntingburg. Grainry Antiques & Other Needful Things began at the couple’s farm when they converted the granary into an antique store in 2004. They moved the store to Huntingburg last August.
Sue, 66, has her own experiences with antiques. Her mother owned an antiques store for 25 years in Maryland, but dealt mostly with glassware, whereas Sue always had an interest in antique furniture.
On a hot July day, Chuck and Sue, along with nephew James Northrup of Dale, made the hour drive to New Salisbury to check out possible merchandise for the store. They traveled to a home owned by Bill Sieveking, 82. Bill and his wife, Geneva, built the home in 1957 and lived there until 2010.
When the Sievekings moved, they left a lot of things behind that wouldn’t fit in their home just up the road. Now they’re trying to decide what to do with it.
That’s where Chuck comes in. He took a step inside the door, wheeling his oxygen tank with him, and began looking around. Chuck was a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and faults exposure to agent orange for damage to his lungs; there is very little he can do without the help of the oxygen tank.
In the home, items lay scattered everywhere, some in boxes, some on the floor and some on the shelves of the open, though unplugged, refrigerator. Bill had taken everything out of its storage spaces so it would be in plain view for Chuck to look over.
“We didn’t bring a big enough trailer,” James said as he saw the plethora of items.
“We might have to buy it room by room,” Chuck added.
After spending several minutes looking around the main floor of the home, Chuck moved to the basement. The men opened a gun cabinet and began inspecting the guns inside.
“I bought that pellet gun when I was 14,” Bill said as Chuck picked up one of the guns.
The negotiations on a single price for all of the items began soon after and came to a close no more than 15 minutes later. Chuck became the owner of the entire contents of the home only an hour after setting foot inside.
Now the real work began, deciding what to take first. Among the items Chuck acquired were several that he pointed out as valuable — an old desk believed to be from the late 1800s, complete with locks; an antique typewriter; and an original Edison phonograph with several wax cylinders that hold recordings to play on the machine.
Some of the items, like the living room furniture, are not old enough to be sold in the Englebrechts’ antique shop. The Englebrechts usually sell these types of items to area stores that deal in used merchandise.
“Sometimes you end up with stuff and you have to decide how to find a market for it,” Sue said.
Tommy Schwinghammer hovered in the doorway of a building on the grounds of Hill Haven in Bretzville. He had his mind in two places as he listened to two auctioneers. He was at a Brahm and Brahm auction, not for enjoyment or leisure but for his job. Tommy and his wife, Theresa, own Anything Collectible in Huntingburg. Tommy, 49, spends a lot of time at auctions buying merchandise to sell at the store.
At this particular auction in late June, Tommy arrived at 9:30 a.m., a half-hour before the auction was to start. He got his bidding number and immediately began to pick through the boxes of things displayed along several tables in the building. Next he moved outside, pausing as several large birdhouses caught his eye. The job requires an extensive knowledge of the market to which he sells.
“Someone will use those as decorative pieces,” Tommy said, pointing to the birdhouses. “Nowadays it’s all about the look. It doesn’t necessarily have to be old.”
As 10 a.m. neared, Tommy discovered there would be two auction rings, one inside and one outside. He quickly reviewed the items for sale in both locations.
“I’ve got to figure out my game plan,” he said. With simultaneous auctions in two rings, Tommy had to decide where to be when, so he could bid on the items he wanted. Those birdhouses were important, but so was the furniture inside. Lucky for Tommy, the auctioneer inside began with all the small items on the tables, which were of little importance to Tommy. His full attention could be put on the items outside, at least for the time being.
Tommy got into the business of antiques after he served time in the Marine Corps. He and Theresa lived in North Carolina and went to antiques shows in their free time. When his time in the Marines was up, he moved home to St. Henry and worked what he calls a “real job” for three months before deciding it wasn’t for him. For years the couple dealt only in antiques, traveling to shows and participating in the “eBay fad.” When they opened the store in 2010, they broadened their business to include just about anything. The store still sells antiques, but many used items can be found there as well.
After a quick check at the auction inside, Tommy returned outside — but chose a spot closer to the door this time, so as to keep an eye on the furniture that would be sold soon. Tommy continued his balancing act all through the auction, keeping one ear inside and one out.
Tommy remembers going to his first auction when he was 5. It was an estate sale at a home in the center of St. Henry. When he was a teen, he rode his bicycle about four miles to attend an auction at a home near the Huntingburg Conservation Club. He didn’t plan to buy anything. “I didn’t have any money,” he said, but he went to watch, which may be how he picked up the knack of auctions.
After a while, he said, “you get the feel of it.”
At Hill Haven, Tommy ended the day with what he described as a “baby load”of merchandise, which included several pieces of furniture, a fountain and one of the four large birdhouses he spotted early in the day. He carried the birdhouse over to his truck, only to realize its pole was too long to fit in his trailer. Disappearing into the trailer for a moment, Tommy returned with a saw to shorten the wooden pole.
“You always carry a saw,” he said.
Editor’s note: The Schwinghammers are April Dittmer’s uncle and aunt.
Contact April Dittmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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