Wilmington couple finds value in the vintage

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WILMINGTON — Diane Chapman stood in the back of her antiques shop, where old newspapers were displayed for sale in two stacks. She picked up an edition dated May 5, 1961. The headline announced the safe return of Project Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard from his suborbital spaceflight, the first by an American, earlier that day.

An afternoon newspaper published by the long-defunct Times-Union of Rochester, N.Y., it was much wider than contemporary broadsheets and had no color. Sold for seven cents on the evening it was printed, the newspaper was now priced at $20.

"This is kind of the gravy," Chapman said earlier this month. "If we make a few extra bucks, we have some fun with it and we can go out and buy more things."

Chapman and her husband, Lenny, own Chapman's Antiques, at 7 W. Main St. The couple became involved with antiques as a hobby which later became a part-time career. Since retiring from their jobs seven years ago, antiquing become a full-time occupation.

"They're not a big moneymaker — antiques," said Lenny Chapman.

"But it's fun, and enjoy doing it," added Diane Chapman.

Until last year, the Chapmans had two antiques outlets in Wilmington.

Lenny and Diane Chapman began attending tag sales, flea markets and antique shows in the 1970s. They accumulated a large collection of vintage items, which were stored in a barn next to their house at 38 New England Power Rd. On Memorial Day weekend 2004, after Lenny Chapman had renovated the barn into a retail space, Chapman's Antiques opened for business. For the next eight years, the store was open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, and remained a sideline as the spouses worked regular jobs.

"To justify buying all this stuff, and since we had the space, we decided we should turn around and try to sell some of it," Diane Chapman said.

Lenny Chapman owned Country Builders of Wilmington. Since 1972, he had constructed more than 80 homes in the area, and served as a contractor on numerous building remodels and rehabilitations. Diane Chapman was elected to the Wilmington Selectboard and worked in offices, including at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Black Diamond Tree Service in Wilmington.

By 2012, the Chapmans had retired and were looking for something to do. It was a year after floodwaters had inundated Wilmington's commercial district. Lenny Chapman suggested to his wife that they sell antiques in town.

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"After the flood of 2011, there were so many empty buildings down here," Lenny Chapman said. "Just empty."

A broker showed them inside 7 W. Main St., the former home of Down in the Valley, whose owners had recently retired after spending many years selling parkas, ski clothes and other winter-centric apparel.

The Chapmans, along with some neighbors and fellow antique dealers, formed a partnership and took a lease on the property. They also decided to keep their existing store, the one adjoining their house, open. This became Chapman's Antique Barn.

The new store, called Chapman's Antiques in Town, opened in late September 2012. About a third of the store's inventory came from the Chapmans' stocks of antiques. The remainder belonged to the partners, and more than two-dozen dealers with items being sold on consignment.

"I was writing 20 to 25 checks a month to the consignees," Diane Chapman said.

After about a year, the partners involved with Chapman's Antiques in Town asked to leave the enterprise. "They wanted to travel," Lenny Chapman explained.

Chapman's Antique Barn remained open until the summer of 2018. The Chapmans held a few tag sales in the barn earlier this year, but the store on Main St. - renamed Chapman's Antiques - is their main focus. About 80 percent of the inventory is theirs. The number of items on consignment has been reduced to the wares of a few consigners. One dealer in antiques rents space in the back of the store. Patrons pay the Chapmans for any purchases made from this dealer's stock, and collect rent from the dealer. They receive a commission on consignment sales.

"The antiques business has changed," Lenny Chapman said. "Many younger people don't want antiques. I remember buying an old roll-top desk for $800 in 1980. Now, if I can get $200 for it, I'm lucky."

The Chapmans said their best customers are people with second homes in the area. Tourists represent the second-largest sales segment. Since most of their inventory is purchased from local estates, year-round residents are not regular customers.

A middle-aged couple came into the store and started looking at the milk bottles and other glassware displayed on wall shelving.

"Snowshoes are popular sellers right now," Diane Chapman said, getting up to ask if the browsers needed assistance. "And so are wooden skis."


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