Fritz Lev wasn’t trying to sell antiques when he opened his store on Bayview Ave. in 1974. But when he closes his doors in January, he will have done just that with his wife Juliet for over three decades.
“Originally, it was a cushion store,” says Lev. “We brought in our own antiques to decorate the store … Within a year it was clear that the interest and demand for antiques was much higher than the cushions.”
That suited the owner just fine.
“I always wanted to have a Charles Dickens kind of curiosity shop,” says Lev, who emigrated from Austria in 1973.
Lev has seen countless treasures pass through his cavernous store over the past 34 years and has watched as customers’ tastes have changed.
“When I started out it was very traditionally British oriented,” he says. “During the reign of Pierre Trudeau, we became very much aware as a nation that we also had treasures and so Canadiana also became very popular.”
In the last 10 years, he says, tastes have changed again with the demand for French antiques “increasing tremendously”.
Calling himself a typical immigrant success story, Lev partly credits good neighbours for his business achievement over the years.
“People here are very reliable. It’s a very good neighborhood that has been very good to me,” he said. “There are lots of people here who appreciate beautiful things and culture and want to have antiques in their homes.”
Although his business is still profitable Lev says the rising costs of running a retail business in Toronto played a role in his decision to close.
But he emphasizes the store closure is not a sad ending for the business and that personal timing is the biggest factor in the move.
“I’d like to enjoy some of the fruits of my labour … I’ve literally worked here 34 years, 6 days a week, with the exception of buying trips to Europe.”
Lev still plans to continue his involvement with antiques. Without the store, he’ll focus on a side business renting out antiques to movie sets. He also plans to consult and participate in antique shows.
Looking back the upbeat owner says he has no regrets.
“How much luckier can you be to be surrounded by beautiful things every day and pleasant customers who are interested in those objects?”
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