From general store to antiques, store survives test of time
GRADYVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Communities are often defined on the stability of their local businesses. For Gradyville that means The Den of Antiquity, a former general store turned antique shop that has stood at the crossroads of Gradyville and Middletown roads for more than 90 years.
The store grew from a small tobacco shop that Elmer Miller Sr. bought from his uncle in the 1920′s along with a trucking company that the family ran.
“Gradyville is the halfway point between West Chester and Chester, a good place for a trucking firm,” said Elmer “Chip” Miller III, co-owner with his sister Joanne Hartley of the parent company Gradyville Services Inc. “He started with three Autocars, and expanded to over 100 trucks owned and 50 leased.”
The Miller family has been in Egmont since the 1860s after it migrated west from a farm in Philadelphia and bought 100 acres of lands in Egmont which is now the development of Heather Hills.
The store originally served truckers with items like tobacco, gum and newspapers. When the general store across the road closed in the 1940s the family enclosed the porch of the family home, which housed the shop and expanded into their own general store Miller said.
Miller Sr. also built a small store next door to house the post office, which was at that time without a home. That building now houses Lucky Sign Co.
The general store had its own gas pumps, which dispensed the Pure Oil brand. By the 1950s, Miller’s father, Elmer “Bus” Miller Jr. and his wife, Mary Lou, were running the business.
“It had everything a general store would have, canned food, frozen food, milk, eggs, bread, candy,” Miller said. “Many times I raided that candy counter, and some of my fondest memories were seeing everyone in the neighborhood when they would come into the store, including Chief Halftown, who lived in Thornbury.”
Chief Halftown was a well known television personality who hosted a children’s show on the local ABC affiliate Channel 6 in the 1950s.
“I remember his dad (Miller) giving me an ice cream cone after walking a mile to get here, It was a nickel,” said Rita Brown Simpson of Honey Brook, who grew up in Gradyville and stopped by the store recently with her sisters Nancy McGehean of Aston and Tina Couch of Brookhaven to see if the place had changed. “I remember this counter was where the candy was.”
The three sisters and the two Millers reminisced as if it was just yesterday.
Miller said the family got out of the trucking business in the early 1960s as the industry unionized. The gas pumps changed to Gulf, then to the ’76 brand as business at the general store diminished.
“Shopping habits changed and the mall ( Granite Run) just down the road would soon open,” said Miller.
In the early ’70s with family looked for other ways to keep the business running, Mary Lou Miller suggested to her husband that they go into the antiques business. She had been studying antiques and learned from mentors and friends to get an education in the business. She didn’t just want to be a resale shop, Miller said of his mother.
“She found a late 18th century dining room set , bought it and sold it right off the truck,” Miller said. “That convinced Bus it could work.”
Miller said the general store continued for a number of years as the antiques slowly took over. Mary Lou came up with the name “Den of Antiquity” as the new name of the store and by the ’80s the fuel tanks were taken out and the transformation was complete.
In those days the couple developed a route in the region during which they would call on dealers and other people looking for items they could put in the shop. Occasionally they would buy the entire contents of homes.
“As the store progressed Dad got big into the clocks and lamps,” Miller said.
With his parents getting older the children were pressed into service and learned the business. A third sibling, Linda, died in 2004.
Bus Miller died in 2009 at age 79, but Mary Lou continued with the store and an antiques appraisal show she ran for community groups to active.
Mary Lou died in 2016 and the two remaining children, Chip a paramedic, now in medical sales and Joanne, a dental assistant, decided to dedicate their full time to the business. Two nephews also help out in the store.
“It’s exciting. It’s a mix between Pickers and Pawn Stars,” said Miller, referring to popular reality shows that focus on antiques. He recalled occasionally spotting items while on the ambulance and bringing them home to sell at the store.
“The internet has both helped and hindered the business,” Miller said. “It established a baseline and how you can be more selective in purchasing items.”
Miller said people can offer any price on eBay but he looks to see what the last 10 of those items have sold for to set a price on an item. The shop has a presence on eBay.
Miller said mid-century modern furniture is hot at the moment. They occasionally will get a rush for items and later find out that it was spurred by a story on Pinterest or Etsy.
The shop specializes in lamps, crystal, china, glassware, jewelry and antique and vintage Christmas holiday items many of which came from Mary Lou Millers’ personal collection.
“We had so much Christmas stuff from buying home contents we opened the attic with Christmas stuff and it is now a thriving part of the business,” Miller said. “We’re looking to take it to 12 month a year.”
Miller said they are constantly striving to find new items for the shop which has expanded to an adjoining building. They are open Wednesday through Saturday. The rest of the week the Millers are out looking for new finds.
Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com