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Shopping in the Realm of Nostalgia

Syracuse Antiques Exchange features 70 dealers who sell antiques and vintage items

By Norah Machia

“Matthew Pastore, co-owner of Syracuse Antiques Exchange, shows vintage cheerleader jacket

The Syracuse Antiques Exchange is a large four-story building filled with a vast array of memorabilia and collectibles, and there’s a good chance when you finish shopping there, you’ll probably be walking out with something unexpected.

While the experience is different for everyone, “what we’re really selling is nostalgia,” explained co-owner Matthew Pastore. “Many of these items remind people of a time when they were younger and had fewer responsibilities,” he said. “Browsing through the store can be a very personal experience.”

The building at 1629 N. Salina St., (a short distance from the Destiny USA Mall) was constructed in the 1880s as a general merchandise store. It changed hands several times and, 30 years ago, became the Syracuse Antiques Exchange. Today, the main aisles are large and wheelchair accessible and staff will take any shoppers who can’t walk up the stairs on an elevator to reach the upper levels.

“It started with a few vendors trading period antiques, and it’s evolved into so much more over the years,” said Pastore, who is co-owner with Richard Jaeger. “We now have a huge selection of antiques and vintage items from more than 70 dealers.”

Most dealers are from the Central New York region. They offer a “wide variety of price ranges” for their merchandise, he added.

The Syracuse Antiques Exchange carries furniture, lighting, jewelry, art deco pieces, wall art, clocks, vinyl records, books, and sports memorabilia, along with many other items, including oddities that are “one-of-a-kind,” said Pastore.

“Some people may order these items online, but if you come to the store, you can pick it up, touch it and feel it” to get a much better sense of its appearance and condition, he said. “You just can’t have the shopping experience online that you would have here.”

“We’ve become a destination for antiques in the Northeast,” Pastore added. “Even if you’re not looking for something in particular, walking through the store itself is just a great experience.”

Often people are looking for one thing in particular — say a lamp — and walk through the building browsing at lamps from different time periods in a range of sizes, shapes and colors. But along the way, they may also uncover hidden gems such as a decorative wall hanging, an old coat or a piece of costume jewelry.

“The store is really focused on customer experience,” said Pastore, noting that 95% of the merchandise for sale is not owned by the store, but by the dealers who rent space in the building.

Vendors Steven Phillips and Heather Binion stand by free-standing atomic red fireplace at Syracuse Antiques Exchange

There are 10 full- and part-time employees who monitor the store operations, assist the customers in their selections and ring up their purchases. If customers have questions about a particular item and would like to speak directly to the vendor, they are just a cell phone call away (although some spend time at the store as well).

There has recently been a lot of interest in mid-century modern furniture, from the approximate time period of the 1950s to 1970s, including chairs and tables, couches, lamps and other household furnishings, said Pastore. “We’ve had a lot of people coming here to buy nice stuff for their apartments and houses,” he said.

Pastore, a dealer himself, sells “decorative and functional” items for kitchens, dining and living rooms, including furniture, along with a variety of other merchandise and clothing.

He also carries Syroco wall hangings from the former Syracuse Ornamental Company. In 1890, the company started producing molded wood-pulp interior decorations and gifts that resembled hand carvings, and later integrated plastics into the molding process before the business closed.

Shoppers have also been looking for vintage clothing, and it’s become such a popular item that nearly 1,000 square feet of space was cleared off on the fourth floor for a large display.

“Everyone can fit something in their closet,” Pastore said.

“We often have families visit the store,” he said. “It’s been a good bonding experience for different generations.” For example, sometimes parents or grandparents find themselves explaining to the younger generations how a rotary dial phone works, he joked.

Customers may “find items here that they didn’t even remember owning at one time in their life,” he said. “They may bring back memories that had been forgotten.”

For nearly 20 years, Steven Phillips has been a vendor at the Syracuse Antiques Exchange, offering a mix of items that are “trendy and popular,” he said.

Recently, that has included several items from the mid-century modern period. Often customers are seeking out this merchandise to create a “minimalist” design in their homes or apartments, Phillips said.

For example, he has a free-standing atomic red fireplace dating back to the early 1950s that looks like something right out of the “Jetsons” cartoon. Phillips also carries merchandise that spans other time periods, including a 1949 Packard car transformed into a bar. “I like the more unusual things,” he said.

Phillips mixes up his offerings with more traditional items, including solid cherry dressers that have “stood the test of time,” he said. Many of his items come from referrals, but he also picks up things through Facebook Marketplace, auctions and estate sales.

After working as a dealer for so many years, Phillips has developed a vast knowledge of the value behind all kinds of collectibles and memorabilia.

“If I find something I think people will like, and it’s a reasonable price, I’ll buy it,” he said.

Heather Binion has been a vendor for several years and carries a large variety of items, including furniture, macramé plant holders, costume jewelry, trinket boxes, glassware and games. She also is co-owner of The BeatNook, which organizes outdoor markets for vintage and local artisans throughout the Syracuse area.

Her merchandise ranges from the 1930s through the 1980s, and she also sells a variety of Syroco pieces. “Vintage is always evolving,” she said. “If something is older than 20 years, it’s usually considered a vintage item.”

As younger people have developed more of an interest in items from their parents’ generations, including furniture, clothing and vinyl records, the demand has grown, she said. “Curated vintage items for a modern life” is the phrase often used to describe her merchandise, she said.

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