By Bonnie Williamson
There's an old saying, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." Well, Bill Bowen of Bunker Hill Antiques Associates, has more than 35,000 square feet of both junk and treasures at 144 Runnymeade Road, Bunker Hill, West Virginia. Of course, he considers them all treasures. Bowen became the owner of the antique mall in 2001.
"This is actually my third career. I was a Coast Guard officer for 26 years then spent 13 years as a software contractor for the Coast Guard. This is something I always wanted to do," he says.
He admits to being a collector and being particularly fond of sports memorabilia. Bowen rents space in the two-story antique mall to 30 vendors. Bowen's daughter-in-law Michelle Charoensawadsiri is also on site on the second floor with her Suga Mama Cakes business. Bowen takes items on consignment but also goes to auctions, yard sales, and estate sales.
The building was originally a woolen mill back in 1910. It still has two loading docks. "It truly is an amazing space. There are five huge safes here I use for storage and what I call an Alfred Hitchcock elevator from about the 1920s with sliding bars," Bowen says. It's sort of a birdcage elevator style. Bowen only uses it for people who might have trouble going up and down stairs.
Bowen acquired an old addressograph machine that actually belonged to the mill. "I couldn't believe it when I saw the label on it. It came home," he says.
Bowen has four other employees. He is at the mall every day unless he's out seeking other items to sell. The mall stays open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. And no item is too unusual. "We have a little bit of everything," Bowen says.
One unique item is a life-size statue of Robert E. Lee he has yet Bill and Monica Bowen to sell. "The gentleman who still owns it bought it in honor of Lee's 100th birthday. He tried to sell it to museums but no one was interested. So here Lee remains," Bowen said. Other unusual things for sale are a seven-foot hand-carved alligator, an Amish buggy and African tribal masks.
Items are displayed in different sections. Each section covers about a 10 feet by 15 feet space. A jewelry section is in the front of the mall. "The jewelry is the first thing people see. Most of it is upscale estate jewelry. Many sterling silver items," he says.
Bowen says he has just about every period of furniture. He has a bureau from 1770, Victorian furniture, a Victrola from the early 1900s, a piano from the 1880s and what's called mid-century modern furniture.
"Mid-century modern is hot. Lots of chrome, red metal. Things from the 1950s remind many people of their childhood. They find a little bit of their past. They really connect with it. They'll say, ‘Hey, I remember my grandmother or mother had something like that.' I have about 1,000 vinyl records for about $3 a piece, I have some first edition books and old radios," he says. There's china, crystal, and a section with country-style items.
A large section of the second floor is devoted to Christmas items. He has two rooms that have things for "man caves."
"Men like signs, pipes, and pipe holders even if they don't smoke," he says.
Bowen has numerous baseball gloves, jerseys and other sports memorabilia. One cabinet has original World War II articles, including a German helmet. "I only want original World War II things," he emphasizes.
The mall has Howard Products for finishing furniture, West Virginia Fenton Art Glass, and food products for the Worthy Student Scholarship Fund at West Virginia University. Bowen said he continually changes the displays so people who have been to the mall will always see something new. He also updates his displays on Facebook.
"I'd say it takes people at least two hours to see everything in the store. There is just so much to see," he says.
Bowen says even though he truly enjoys what he's doing now, the business can be a tough one. "Especially when the economy is like it is. This kind of business has suffered along with the rest of the country. I don't carry things you absolutely have to have. You don't really need the things I carry," Bowen says.
He says there is also the battle between ordering items on the Internet versus going to a brick and mortar store. Bowen does use his website at www.bunkerhillantiques. com to handle requests from customers.
However, Bowen says he can't complain. People find him. He enjoys what he's doing. He even watches television shows about his trade. "My grandchildren and I watch the History Channel's ‘American Pickers' show. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz go around the country picking things to sell. I had to laugh when my grandkids said the pickers were not buying enough stuff. Passing up on items they usually went for. I told the kids that it's just a television show," Bowen says.
Bowen does seem to prove that one man's junk is another's treasure. There's a lot to see at Bunker Hill Antiques. Composer Peter Allen had it right when he wrote: Don't throw the past away You might need it some rainy day Dreams can come true again When everything old is new again Happy shopping!