Longtime Antique Shop to Close

Fountain Square will shutter in February

By Michael Turton

The bench in front of 104 Main St. in Cold Spring is one of the things Walt Carmichael says he will miss most when he locks the door at Fountain Square Antiques for the last time next month.

“Sitting out on that bench in the summertime was a lot of fun,” he says. “I made a lot of friends.”

Carmichael and his daughter, Jeanine, have worked the antiques trade together for more than 20 years. He says they will continue to do so after he closes the store during the third week of February, but only at shows. “Until then there are plenty of bargains!” he says.

The business got its name from its original location on Fountain Square, a plaza on East Main Street in his native Beacon that had a fountain once used to water horses. He moved the shop to Cold Spring 23 years ago; the shop’s current location is its third in the village.

Walt Carmichael (Photo by M. Turton)

Carmichael says he never viewed the antiques business as his livelihood. “It was just something I enjoyed” that grew out of his passion for knife collecting, he says. His “real jobs” included 18 years in construction and 19 as a corrections officer.

The business changed over the decades, primarily because younger people seem to have less interest. “If I see a dumpster at an estate sale, that’s where I look now,” he says. “These days younger people don’t care about antiques — they just trash it.”

That waning interest has made selling antiques more challenging, he says, with some pieces dropping in value 75 percent over the past 20 years, including Wedgewood, English China that dates back to the 1600s, and Waterford and Lalique crystal. Enthusiasm for hand tools, old bottles, postcards and colorful Depression-era glass has also declined, he says.

Then there was the 2008 recession. “We took a 60 percent drop in business,” Carmichael says.

But Carmichael still revels in a great find such as “a beautiful, 1860s English Empire dresser made of solid tiger maple” that he came across a few months ago. A customer returned three times to the shop before buying it, a common occurrence with “serious buys,” he says. Another buyer, a couple from Brooklyn, also returned three times before buying a 9-foot-tall, 1880s pier mirror.

One of his most prized finds was also one of the smallest: a 2-inch tall, carved ivory bust of a female slave that he found at a tag sale in Beacon. It sold within hours. “You have to be observant,” he says.

Fountain Square Antiques will close in February. (Photo by M. Turton)

The public also has become more observant thanks to television shows such as Antiques Roadshow, although Carmichael advises keeping those “finds” in perspective.

“Only the best of the best gets on Antiques Roadshow and it gives people the impression that everything is worth a lot of money,” he said. He believes another popular show, American Pickers, is staged. “Nobody just rides here and there and finds a beautiful barn full of antiques,” he says. “Once in a lifetime maybe, but every week?”

Carmichael saw firsthand how antique shops helped revitalize Main Street in Cold Spring.

“When I grew up in Beacon, Cold Spring was a pretty closed little town,” he recalls. Like many communities, the village declined in the 1960s and early 1970s with the growth of plazas and shopping centers. Eventually there were 30 to 35 shops in Cold Spring that brought thousands of customers to Main Street. “There were weekends when you couldn’t see the sidewalk for people, and they were here just for antiques,” he says.

2 thoughts on “Longtime Antique Shop to Close

  1. Although such online markets as eBay can offer hundreds, perhaps thousands, of choices where a traditional antiques store might offer one or two, if any, much has been lost in the depersonalizing of our search for the material past. Meandering aimlessly through musty isles in the hope of finding a treasure, talking old times and bygone days with the shop owner — these are delights that are fast disappearing. I remember driving from Westchester to Cold Spring to go antiquing, and I have happily spent money in Walt’s shop. Now that I’ve lived in Cold Spring for some years, I can say with certainty that he will be missed, along with so many other purveyors of the past who made our town all the richer.

  2. I too will miss Walter and chatting with him on a nice summer day is a fond memory. His shop is lovely — great selection of interesting and well-priced merchandise, carefully curated. I wonder what kind of business will come into that space — no doubt something that will appeal more to the ubiquitous millennials, along the lines of the newer additions to Main Street.

    Amazon and the other online markets are having a profound and dehumanizing effect on what used to be a beloved pastime, shopping. There is no socialization sitting at a computer or tapping and clicking a smart phone. Very often it seems to me that visitors don’t even know what to do in a real brick-and-mortar store. The come in, look around like it’s a museum, maybe take a few pictures to see if they can get a better deal on some website.

    I am sad to see Walter go as well some of the other “old timers” who have departed during my time in the Village. It surely marks the end of an era in Cold Spring. The glory days of antiques and antique stores will never return — the young people don’t want all the doodads and “stuff” while their parents and grandparents are emptying their nests. Oh well, I suppose that’s progress.