Vintage treasures and trinkets to discover

There is a giant treasure in Dunkirk which, surprisingly, many local people don’t seem to know about. It should not be a secret. We should be shouting from the rooftops that we have such a magnificent building filled with wondrous and curious objects of interest. It is where I do my Christmas shopping and it is where I go for an occasional uplifting experience to admire fine craftsmanship and the rich patina of real wood, to smile over some quirky memento or to connect to the historic roots of this community.
This treasure is the Antique Co-op at 212 Lake Shore Drive East, operated by Lou and Amy DiPietro, established to honor Russell J. DiPietro, Lou’s father, who died at age 90 in 2011. Russ operated an antique shop farther out on Lake Shore Drive and was known for his caning of chairs and refinishing of antiques. Some of his work is still on display throughout the building. When Randy Ortel of Randy’s Antiques of Fredonia moved a few years ago it was to partner with Lou DiPietro in this endeavor. That partnership no longer exists by mutual agreement. Instead, there are more than 50 dealers/vendors who occupy the spaces covering three spacious floors plus a basement.
The building itself is humongous. Built around the turn of the century, it was first used as a garage and hardware store combined. At that time one could have walked in to see wooden bins up to the ceiling and sliding wall ladders to reach the higher cubbies. Miller’s Furniture, on a level comparable to Ehlers, was the next to occupy the building, then D&K Furniture and finally Bum’s Bargains. With the new partnership in 2011, came an entire transformation. The natural wood floors have all been restored and glisten with multiple layers of varnish or polyurethane. Wide stairways lead to each floor. The stairs to the second floor are about eight feet wide.
The 12 foot long wooden sales counter in the back of the co-op has its own history. Originally it served as the fabric measuring and cutting surface at Runkle’s Dry Goods shop in Fredonia’s Russo building. Later, it was used at Neil’s Flower Shop.
The Antique Co-Op is a bright spot on Lake Shore Drive with colorful banners announcing its presence. Tasteful and attractive window displays invite further exploration inside. At this time of year Christmas decorations are in every nook and cranny among the antiques and collectibles making for a festive shopping experience.
Deborah Bentley can be found in the shop helping staff the sales desk but the store is also a home base for her stained glass business, where she makes original pieces and sun catchers or will repair your favorite leaded glass or stained glass window. George Sinclair was there volunteering. He is one of the dealers specializing in postcards. I purchased early 1900 postcards of a booming downtown Dunkirk, one with horse traffic and 20 years later model T traffic. Washington Park was depicted with rose gardens and a fountain inside a wide wading pool. This could be a wish list for the restorative future of the city.
While in the Antique Co-op I interviewed several customers.
As I was exploring on the second floor I heard the ooh’s and aah’s of a customer remarking to his friend about an item he greatly admired. He, also, obviously had kept his eye on several items over time and noticed that one favorite object must have been sold. This was Don Kouch from Columbus, Ohio. He works in the medical building of Ohio State University and drives back to Rochester nearly every month to check on his widowed mother. He stumbled upon the Antique Co-op one day just because he decided to get off the New York State Thruway and drive along Lake Erie for awhile. He says he cannot resist stopping to shop here on every trip. He loves everything about the Co-op and the great variety of collectibles.
A retired couple from Angola was also there and had just discovered the shop on their way home from lunch at the White Inn, when deciding to drive home along the water. They had this “kid in a candy shop” look about them and were thrilled with their discovery.
“I wish I had a whole house to furnish” declared the wife.
Her husband kept remarking on the quality, pricing, and displays.
Two women from Forestville stopped in and responded to my inquiry that they come occasionally “to browse” but today came to Christmas shop. When asked for a comment about the store one just replied “Wow.”
So what is the “wow” factor beyond the renovated building itself? I can only speak from my experience. You will have to visit the antique Co-op to get your own “wow” experience. Last Christmas I found an etched figure on an oval, French, turn of the century, piece of glass I knew my daughter would love in her West Coast Victorian home. I bought two-full sized leaded glass windows which had originated from a now demolished Dunkirk house. Their sparkle delights me daily in my computer room. My neighbors live in the historic Booth family house, (of Dunkirk’s Booth Dairy fame) and I ran across an old Booth milk bottle for them at Lou’s shop.
George Eggers, the prominent Dunkirk photographer of the last century, and father of George W. Eggers, the artist, had a unique stamped logo on his photo folders. I found several of these at the Antique Co-op and targeted them for the historic museum. During my last visit I purchased a book entitled The Packet Seed Companies of Fredonia, NY 1834-1988 by Douglas Shepard, and there, was a photo of 30 Water Street, Fredonia, previously owned by George Weaver, a building my son now owns, known once as The Hygrade (Fredonia) Seed Company. The photo shows the third floor, intact. This was prior to the 1992 tornado which blew through town and removed the front half of the top floor. In the book, Shepard relates that the Hygrade Seed Company had a school program where a dozen seed packets placed in a box would be sold by school children to raise funds for one activity or another, much as Girl Scouts sell cookies. What great stories there are to uncover!
Let me share some highlights of my visit for this story. Upon entry to the shop I encountered a Railroad chest used to transport gold bullion/payroll. Made by the Vanderman Strongbox Co. in 1897, it rests on an original railroad track cart with heavy iron wheels. Within eye shot of this chest was a small marble top round stand, a Victorian doll house, a Mary Engelbreit Christmas pageant tin (sorry, I bought this one), old postcards and sheet music, and photographs from bygone eras. Throughout the displays, there are religious items, items vital for rehabbing old houses like porcelain, glass and brass door knobs. A hand carved German cuckoo clock sang out right on the hour. Moving along, a pair of wooden oars caught my fancy and then an authentic wooden grape press. What a perfect prop for one of the many wineries around. Do you love solid oak roll top desks? Oak cupboards? Polished mahogany serpentine dressers? Rose colored marble topped commodes with matching dresser? How about a Roycroft table/shelf? They are all there to admire and purchase.
There are stocking stuffers galore: jewelry, Coca Cola memorabilia, a stereoscope with cards, vintage Disney and movie characters, hand crocheted doilies, hundreds of glass items, dishes and porcelain; a Ronald Reagan Paper Doll set (I kid you not). Do you have a “man cave” you want to furnish? Yup, lots of beer signs and camping gear, army paraphernalia, and old tools. Remember Koch’s Brewery in Dunkirk? Honor the “first family of fine brews” with a tray or an advertising sign or an old keg. There is even a complete marble soda fountain set up from a now defunct local sweet shop (cherry, chocolate, vanilla, root beer, pineapple, strawberry) Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Right next to this is a very strange contraption labeled “stretcher.” It would make a great door stop and quite a conversation piece. There are hundreds of such mysterious things.
Several visits ago I spied two handsome brass pieces, about 18 inches tall, which were labeled “fireman hose nozzles.” Absolutely unique! Some lucky person snatched them up in the meantime. This time I saw a set of white old fashioned metal cabinets from a medical office. Is there a nurse or doctor remodeling? Need a Horner accordion, a replacement glass lamp shade? There are all kinds of framed pieces. How about a Silver Creek Moose Lodge state building compliance code dated Oct 1, 1922; or a Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work certificate assuring that Mrs. Mildreth’s Bible class of Lockport, NY was recognized as an “Organized Adult Bible Class” in June 1915? Alleluia!
The DePietro’s have extended their business even further. Their Auction and Event Center is located at 3731 Lake Shore Drive East in the former Elfman Quilt Center and before that, the Town and Country Restaurant. This building is equipped to handle weddings and other special occasions, as well as periodic auctions. The business also does household clean outs and estate sales. Lou DiPietro was not available to share the details of the renovation of the building or how commissions and rental agreements work for his various spaces but a trip to the Co-op will inspire you in many ways and lead you to believe that other commercial buildings in the city are patiently awaiting a successful renaissance.
In the meantime, treat yourself to a journey down Memory Lane, find the most unique treasures, and have a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Skeeter Tower’s Sunshine Corner appears the third Sunday of the month in the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed to