Collections and recollections

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 05:46 PM

The view from Downtown Antiques second floor window at 207 S. Garnett St. hasn’t really changed much in 70 years, although Henderson is a different city from when Grady’s Mens Shop started there in the 1940s.

The current business is the 10-year project of Charlie Perry, who says getting Downtown Antiques in 2003 allowed him to put his fix-up interests to good use.

The venue has also allowed him to keep his collections and recollections grounded in a real place for this past decade as a center for something historical: a collection of pieces that make for windows on the past.

Perry can talk a lot about the past in Henderson, back to July 6, 1959, when he rolled straight into the firestorm of picket lines and new hires that the union workers of Harriet and Henderson Yarns called scabs.

“I came in when they were all on the picket line, when they would throw things at you, throw paint on cars, stuff like that,” Perry said. (The mill) “offered to bring them back to work, but the unions wouldn’t allow it. It was pretty bad, and made national news. They called Henderson ‘Little Chicago’ for a while. There was a lot of ill feelings, but things settled down, too.”

Perry has had cooler conversations with people of both sides of that old time, and fragments of “back then” get included among Perry’s old things, one latest item being a book on the subject written by a top leader of the union side, that Perry recently sold to someone interested in that history.

Perry remembers Sept. 28, 1995, at the tail end of his career at Harriet Henderson that included promotion in 1972 to a department manager position at the North Henderson plant.

“That’s two days I remember, the day I started and the day I left,” Perry said. “The area was different then. A lot of people worked and lived all around up there.”

It was in the 1970s that Perry’s dabbling in antiques started to grow into a bigger hobby, and the hobby became a second way of life that included restoring old cars.

“I used to restore a car a year while I was at the mill,” he said. “At one time, I had about 15 vintage cars.”

He got a booth at Granddaddy’s Antiques Mall, back in the 1990s when the federation of collectables dealers in Burlington couldn’t really boast itself as “largest in the Carolinas.” His footprint there grew to seven booths as Granddaddy’s grew.

Perry’s interests focused on a specific bottled brand of vinegar: White House, which he says is not about the product, but the bottle, the many kinds of bottles that are collectables right up into the hundreds of dollars.

“White House learned that if you sold vinegar, it’s just vinegar, but if you sold all kinds of bottles that you could reuse, they would sell more,” Perry said.

He wrote the book on that subject, “White House Bottles Jugs and Jars,” in 1991. He wrote the second edition out in 1996, which was soon after retiring from Harriet Henderson.
“I used to travel all over the country to bottle shows,” he said. “You would be surprised about those bottles, the value of them.”

Serious collectors will still inquire about Perry’s exclusive-interest books, putting the thousands printed out of stock on the first edition, so it’s gone through reprinting twice.

“It seems like I have always messed with antiques, bought and sold,” Perry said. “The opportunity came to buy this store, and I did, I bought it from Nancy Bell who had had it running for a few years.”

Before that, it was Thompson’s Florist, that closed up around 2000, and Thompson’s, Perry thinks, carried the baton from Grady’s.

Window views on Garnett Street don’t change much, but they do change. Later on in the year, in October, views out of windows across Garnett from Downtown Antiques will change a little as Downtown Antiques comes to an end.

“I cut back to four days a week, and put a lot of time into getting items from auctions,” Perry said, adding it’s getting time, there will still be the booths at Granddaddy’s, and maybe another old car to restore.

Little changes can mean a lot.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.