As a child, Sylvia Christie hated antiques — but things change
If you had told Sylvia Christie as a young girl in England that one day she would own and operate an antique shop, she would have thought you were crazy.
Christie says she hated old things as a child, “largely as a result of being dragged around scruffy second-hand shops by (my) mother.”
One enduring memory that inspired her youthful dislike for antiques include was “travelling home on the bus with a huge Victorian stuffed bird under a glass dome and trying to pretend that I was not with them – my mother and the bird that is,” she said.
Times changed and for the past decade, she has operated Sylvia's Antiques on Mary Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but on Aug. 2 she will close the doors for good.
Although COVID-19 has affected all businesses in town, Christie said the pandemic didn't force her to close, rather the months of shutdowns gave her time to think about the future of the business.
As she entered her twenties, Christie found herself becoming interested in antiques, motivating her to take a few courses and become a collector.
In 1974, Christie moved to Montreal with her two young daughters and husband, John, who worked there as an engineer. Provincial laws at the time didn't permit her to work in her field as a physiotherapist, so she had plenty of time to devote to antiquing.
She gradually began selling antiques so she could buy more and eventually started taking part in antique shows, “with the help of a reluctant but supportive husband,” she said.
John’s job moved the family to Argentina and back to Quebec again, where Christie opened a little antique shop, which she said she loved. Ten months after opening the shop, her husband’s job moved them to Lesotho, a tiny country entiredly surrounded by South Africa.
While packing up the shop for the move, Christie said her husband had a visit from the police after accidentally setting off the emergency alarm button under the counter. The police arrived with sirens wailing and weapons drawn ,she said, but the situation was quickly settled after he talked with them.
After two years in South Africa, the family moved back to Canada and settled in Niagara where Christie worked as a physiotherapist and antiquing took a back seat.
The Christies have lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake since 1997 and after 10 years of retirement from physiotherapy, the little shop on Mary Street was up for rent.
“There it was, just waiting to be an antique store,” she said. Her husband's response? “You said you were out of the antiques!”
“It was the shop really,” she said. “It was just all set up to be an antique shop.”
“I’d had some stock because we had been doing shows. The last show we did was Sherway Gardens in Toronto and it closed the year we opened the shop, so we were lucky that we had a shop.”
Now, after two months of lockdown, painting and finishing projects around the shop, Christie said the decision to close happened almost overnight.
“We suddenly thought, 'No, it’s been 10 years and it’s time to stop,' ” she said.
“I was quite scared of opening to start with,” she said about reopening after the pandemic shutdown.
“We gradually got a little more confident” by encouraging mask use and sanitizer for customers coming in, she said.
“We just suddenly thought, what are we doing, with this enormous shop full of stuff that I’ve just gone on buying and buying for 10 years and filing it in,” Christie said.
“And we thought, 'We’re not getting any younger and it’s time to sort this out.' ”
“I used to joke that I would be carried out in a box with my stuff and that’s becoming a little closer to reality, so we thought, no, well the kids would not appreciate that,” she said.
Christie said her landlords, the Pullman family, have been wonderful through all the uncertainty of the pandemic and even helped by reducing the rent for May and June.
“Thank you so much Niagara-on-the-Lake, “ she said.
“To all our customers and to the people who have brought us such wonderful things for us to sell over the years, we are just sad that we will not be able to thank all the customers who come from out of the province – largely the patrons of the Shaw Festival who come year after year to the shows.”
When Sylvia’s Antiques closes in a couple of weeks, Christie said it will be time to step away from the antique world and, “sit back and relax,” though she admits, “it’ll be hard not to dabble a little bit.”
“I’ve been dabbling for 44 years now and it’s something I know,” she said.
“I have got quite a lot of knowledge there now and it’s a pity not to use it really, so we’ll see.”