EMPORIUM EVOLVES: Beloved Downtown Antique Mall Plans Auction, Relocation
after Labor Day auction, legendary purveyor of oddities will move to smaller space
Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth
It’s not as chock-full of antiques as it was a few months ago, but the Antique Emporium in downtown Eau Claire is still pretty chock-full of antiques.
There’s still a stuffed ostrich and a mounted bison head. A battle flag from a Civil War regiment and a carved wooden Thai dragon. Plus thousands of books, prints, picture frames, pieces of furniture and sculpture, and innumerable other antiquities awaiting the right owner.
Since shortly after announcing they were selling the stately brick building, 306 Main St., to Pablo Group late last year, Hugh and Marcella Passow have been holding an ongoing sale, deeply discounting the wares at the store they’ve operated since 1985 in what was originally a Masonic Hall.
Selling off most of their inventory has reinforced some of Hugh Passow’s previous conclusions about the state of the antique market: Large pieces of furniture and dishes that appeals to shoppers of previous generations are now difficult to sell, he says. Younger buyers are more drawn to two-dimensional items, such as the many prints in the shop. Passow thinks it’s because people in this age group can more easily relate to flat images than three-dimensional objects because they are accustomed to seeing everything on screens.
“That’s something I’ll miss here: Having people come and admire all the odd stuff,” –Hugh Passow, Antique Emporium owner
“My biggest surprise is how damn much stuff I have,” he muses. Some of the display cases have been sold, as have some of the exotic pieces of taxidermy. Passow has packed 250 boxes with books. But the multilevel store is still filled with thousands of items – much of it being sold at a discount.
Passow plans to hold an auction on Labor Day to sell off much of his remaining collection. Then, the business will relocate to a much smaller location at 508 Water St., between Neff’s Piano Shop and Angelus Salon and Spa. The Antique Emporium will shrink from about 20,000 square feet to about 1,900, which will require a downsizing effort of historic proportions.
That means the Passows will be selling lots of furniture, glassware, pottery, books, and plenty of miscellaneous items, much of which will likely be sold in assorted lots. Passow expects a crowd, and he’s considering asking the city for permission to close the block of Main Street next to the store and perhaps bringing in a food vendor.
The new location, which Passow hopes to open sometime in September, is just around the corner from the location of his first antique shop on Fifth Avenue, which he co-owned in the 1970s. “It’s kind of a wild full-circle,” he said.
The new store will be more of a small gallery than the vast museum of oddities that it is now. Nonetheless, it will offer a sampling of some of the antiques – including artwork, prints, and books – that shoppers have enjoyed perusing for decades at the Antique Emporium.
But Passow knows it won’t be the same: Gone will be the museum-like atmosphere of the huge space crowded with a seemingly endless array of centuries worth of curiosities.
“That’s something I’ll miss here: Having people come and admire all the odd stuff,” he says.
Antique Emporium • 306 Main St, Eau Claire • (715) 832-2494