New life for old stuff at Unique Antiques & Vintage Clothing

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BRATTLEBORO — On a Thursday afternoon last fall, a twenty-something woman made her way into the back of Lorraine Lanese's shop and began looking at old bridal gowns. Her wedding was in two days.

"She tried one on from the 1950s," said Lanese, the owner of Unique Antiques & Vintage Clothing. "It fit her perfectly. She bought that and she bought a veil."

The woman left the shop with a gown that had first been used about 40 years before her birth. It was used again for a Vermont wedding in October 2018.

"She and her husband came in here a few months later," Lanese said. "This time, she was looking for furniture and stuff."

Unique Antiques & Vintage Clothing opened in August 2016. The store's two main lines are clearly stated by its name: old things and old clothes. Most items are priced from $1 to $300.

Lanese thumbed through some of the inventory available for $1. They were baseball cards from the 1970s and later, displayed in a case near the sales counter. She then walked around to the entryway that leads from the front door to the rest of the store. She keeps this enclosed area full of antique items so visitors get an idea about the rest of her stock.

"You have to have old items in the front," Lanese said. She carries a few new things, such as soaps and lotions. "When people come in, they want to find antiques."

She paused at a 1930s cedar chest with a clock built into the top of it. The piece was tagged for $300.

"It has the original smell in it," Lanese said. "The chest is $300, but I always have a sale, so it's just not going to be $300."

Lanese and her husband, James, relocated from Waterbury, Conn., to the Brattleboro area 15 years ago, after he retired from his job as a state correctional officer. Lorraine Lanese had worked as a hospital technician in Connecticut, and she took a similar job at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

"I used to do the EKGs over there, and the halter monitors and all that," she said.

As a sideline, she also traveled to weekend flea markets to buy and sell antiques.

Lanese's position at the hospital was eliminated in 2016. She was then 65 years old, but not ready for retirement and unwilling to make weekend antiquing a full-time gig.

"I was sick and tired of doing the flea markets," she said. "I was sick of packing things up and unpacking them at markets and having to pay a $20 fee every weekend. I thought I should give it a go with a store."

James and Lorraine Lanese searched for an available property, and liked the one they found at 426 Marlboro Rd. They were certain that busy Route 9 would bring thousands of potential customers past the store every month.

Over the years, the address had hosted various commercial enterprises. One customer told Lorraine Lanese he had consumed meals there when it was a restaurant.

Another proprietor had used it as a store that sold sandwiches, hunting licenses, maple syrup and more. The West Side Market's Coca-Cola sign now sits on the bottom level of Unique Antiques & Vintage Clothing and is available for sale. Lanese said her landlord have given her permission to sell the sign, which was left behind after the market stopped trading.

Before Lanese moved in, the previous tenant used the premises for selling candles, rocks and other items having a mystical bent.

"They had statues and gargoyles in the front, and a fortune teller in the back," Lanese said. "I think it took a while for some people to realize that my business was a new business."

Unique Antiques & Vintage Clothing's revenues now exceed its expenses, according to Lanese. With the store paying its way, she plans to be open seven days a week beginning on April 1. The shop is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when Lanese typically goes on buying trips. Her husband will run the place on these days so that she may continue with the runs for additional merchandise.

In looking for new pieces to add to her inventory of old things, Lanese avoids estate sales and auctions. She favors secondhand stores and flea markets. She enjoys the markets now that she no longer has to lug items into a booth and display them for sale.

Lanese often has no idea where she's going to search for new items until moments before she pulls her Toyota Highlander out of the driveway.

"It's weird," she said. "Wherever my head tells me to go, I go. I could go to Massachusetts. I could go to New Hampshire. I could go through Vermont. I could even go to Connecticut."

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