“Just like you hear them say, ‘They don’t make it like they used to,’ and they really don’t.”
Walter Marquez loves antiques: from his job as owner and manager of the Antiques Barn at Water St. Market, to his 240-year-old home in Highland, to his Santa Claus collection of over 1,400 collectibles of all variations and sizes.
Ever since Marquez, a native of Middletown, New York, was a little kid, antiques have been the apple of his eye. When he would get home from school, he would always hang out with his grandmother who introduced him to antiques and family heirlooms.
“It’s just always been my thing,” he said. “I love all this old crap. There’s something about it, in the look and the feel and the quality. I just love it.”
But Marquez didn’t enter the business end of the antique world until 1999, where he worked at an antique shop in Clintondale, New York. Before that, he spent 10 years working as a kitchen designer.
“That was fun, too,” he said. “But I needed a change and an opportunity came along to do this with a friend, and that developed into this whole thing and it’s been good. I still enjoy it.”
Marquez works at the Antiques Barn eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week. Outside of his job there, he is also an antiques dealer, looking through flea markets, yard sales and houses alike, continuing to search for antiques that he can buy and sell to other shops. He refers to this as “the hunt.”
“That next house might have that treasure in it that I’m trying to find,” he said. “It’s just the thrill of [it]. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like foodies that find that next best restaurant. They hunt for that, too, where we just hunt for more stuff.”
At his shop in downtown New Paltz, Marquez currently has about 30 different dealers’ antiques scattered about, waiting to find new homes. But with a waiting list of 20 to 30 vendors, available space is easily filled right back up again.
Marquez buys and sells a lot of antique furniture and household items, from dressers, tables, glassware and dishes. Aside from household goods, he also sells a lot of jewelry, Kodak cameras, maps, typewriters and telephones. Some of his oldest antiques come from the Victorian era and scale all the way up through the decades of the 20th century.
“I buy quantity, so I won’t just buy that one table. I’ll go in and buy 300 things,” he laughed. “And it works for me. If I can buy a quantity, I don’t have to go everywhere, but I still want to go look at the next house, too, because there might be more good stuff.”
Marquez, like many of his customers, enjoys antiques because of the nostalgia they bring. As an antique fanatic, he also has several collections of his own: old toys and vintage mirrors that cover the walls of his house in lieu of artwork. But after 30 years, his hundreds of Santa Clauses remain his largest personal collection.
“They’re everything from 1920s and ‘30s to little German papier-machés,” he said. “In the ‘50s, they made the hard plastic ones. Those are my favorite, that’s my childhood.”
Marquez said that at Christmas time, his Santa Clauses fill up the rooms of his house, and the rest of the year he puts them away. He even brings in 100 or so to showcase in the Antique Barn.
“People come every year just to look at them because they know I bring them in,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, really, but people do love them. It’s a bit of an obsession, but I don’t hunt for them constantly. It’s at the point now where I have so many I don’t need anymore. But if I see that one and it’s inexpensive, then why not? What’s one more?”
Marquez considers himself lucky to have landed where he did in New Paltz. Given its convenient location right off the New York State Thruway, the town gives easy access to people traveling from Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Albany, New Jersey and even Connecticut.
“New Paltz is a great town, and it’s a busy town, so it’s a great place to do business,” he said. “Other towns aren’t seeing the craziness like we have and we benefit. And it’s beautiful here. We have Historic Huguenot Street, the College, Mohonk, the Gunks, so there is a lot going on in this little area, so people love to come here.”
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on October 20, 2016.