BERLIN — The one thing that Richard and Debbie Seaton agree on without question is that it is nice to have a little breathing space. As the owner and person primarily responsible for running Toy Town Antiques, Debbie is happy not to have to hold her breath every time more than three people are in their shop at once.
Until last week, Toy Town Antiques occupied a small shop on Main Street’s east side. The store was reasonably stocked, but even so she understood how little of what they had they could safely display. And even though the store wasn’t cluttered, when it was busy there wasn’t a lot of room for customers to move around as they browsed.
As the person primarily responsible for filling the shelves in Toy Town Antiques, Richard has developed an excellent understanding of the shopping experience from the perspective of an antiques enthusiast. When you’ve spent as much time as he has haunting different markets and private collections around the country, it gives you a sense of what bars their are to purchases. Over the years he has developed a customer’s eye and has helped to apply that to his own experience when looking through collections of antiques.
Among his top pet peeves is clutter. If there’s a piece he’s considering buying but he can’t get to it or it is wedged in some place he can access but not without effort, it bothers him. He likes the notion of being able to get a good look at a prospective item without making too much fuss or effort.
His primary pet peeve is almost certainly low quality merchandise. Often when traveling the backroads of the region he’ll happen across an antiques shop only to discover that it is primarily a flea market. To that end, it has always been important to the both of them to make sure that they have a stock worthy of a collector’s time as much as it is worth an enthusiasts time. With the new layout, he said, they have the opportunity to display more and larger items pleasing even to people who just want to go in and have a look.
“Even when people come in and just want to look I want them to have a positive experience,” Richard said. “‘Cause it sticks in their heads, and they’ll tell somebody about us.”
If you’ve played with toys in the last 100 years then there is certainly something you’ll remember having owned or at least seen when it was new in Toy Town Antiques. Besides children’s toys, dolls, and games — of which there seem to be no end — Toy Town Antiques deals in coins and other collectables as well.
Talking to Richard, it is easy to see that he’s passionate about antiques generally and he’s as likely to buy something for his personal collection as he is to take something for resale in the store.
“It works both ways,” he said. “You have to purchase to be able to sell.”
After a whirlwind week during which Debbie and Richard moved not only the entire contents from across the street into their new shop but also several of their larger and more collectable pieces from their home, Toy Town Antiques opened last Friday and it is as if they are a new business rather than a relocated one.
Situated next to the municipal parking lot Toy Town Antiques is now among the first stores most visitors walk past when they come into town. The window dressing, which features an antique miniature carnival setup, draws visitors’ attention almost a once and, even though they expected it, the increased foot traffic has been a little surprising.
But with the foot traffic came new customers, many who are interested in buying but also an amount of those hoping to sell their antiques. To Richard, sellers and buyers are both customers and dealing with them both fairly during any transition is another of the creeds to which he and Debbie adhere.
As with the rest of the operations, this attitude is born of their experience as shoppers. They understand that, even when a person has an item in which they’re not interested, building relationships and a reputation is one of the most critical parts of their business. There are no lack of antique dealers on Delmarva, even niche dealers, so respecting the fact that someone had chosen their shop is never far from either of the Seaton’s minds.
While there is certainly no lack of stock, Richard said he looks forward to continue to fill the shelves and improve the shopping experience. After nearly three years occupying what amounts to only a fraction of the space they have now, it is easy to see how Richard feels as if he has too much space to spare.
But from his perspective, now that he and Debbie have more room to show off, they intend to take advantage of it. Between their in-shop purchases and bringing things from their home storage, the pair expect to keep the stock rotating well enough to make regular trips into Toy Town Antiques worth people’s time.