Antiquing usually entails visits to pawn shops and garage sales, not the hospital.
That changed with the opening of an antique store in the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) in 2015. Hospital administrators were skeptical when members of The Auxiliary first proposed opening the fundraising storefront in the main lobby, a location that had been vacated by a yogurt franchise.
They were looking for another rent-paying tenant and felt that another gift shop, no matter how specialized, would not be much of a revenue generator. After all, there was already an Auxiliary boutique nearby.
But the three sisters driving the project knew there was a market for vintage china, crystal, silverware and the like.
Ida Spector, Dorothy Rotholz and Sylvia Quint, née Gordon, who were born and raised in Corner Brook, N.L., made the store profitable – so much so, that the JGH offered them space for a second outlet in the new Pavilion K.
“In 2½ years, we have raised $250,000 for the hospital,” said Rotholz, who retired after teaching at Herzliah High School for 35 years.
The stores have zero overhead. Not only do they pay no rent, everything is donated with no strings attached. The items on sale are not on consignment and no charitable tax receipts are issued.
Everything else, down to the good-quality bags and tissue paper each purchase is wrapped in, is donated.
Most important are the hours the volunteers give to the project. About 50 people offer their time, nearly all of whom are over 70, but the sisters cheerfully do the lion’s share, and their work extends beyond regular business hours.
Each contributes according to their skills. Spector, the eldest, is credited with having the artistic taste, Rotholz is very much the administrator and greeter, and Quint is the decorator.
Although none of them were ever in the antiques business, they say they inherited their appreciation of beautiful things from their mother. Their Polish parents settled on The Rock in the 1930s, where their father started as a pedlar. The family moved to Montreal around 1960.
Quint transformed the old snack bar, a tiny space, into an attractive showcase bursting with goods. The window displays are especially fetching.
On this day, Quint has arranged a leafy patterned tea set next to green glassware, a presentation that immediately attracts the eye.
There are curiosities, as well, including a pair of silver salt cellars with tiny spoons that could have been used as props on Downtown Abbey.
The sisters process thousands of items a year. Many come from estate sales, or older people who know their children won’t want that 18-piece dinner service or sterling tea set, no matter how valuable or esthetically pleasing they are.
“We had a woman who had a 12-piece set of Birks sterling cutlery. She was going to Israel in two weeks and just wanted it out,” said Quint. “We told her she could sell it for a lot, but she insisted. We sold it for $7,000, maybe half of what it was worth.”
They also recently received some Val Saint Lambert glasses that could go for $120 each.
The sisters will pick up donations, although they are starting to cut back on the house calls and “schlepping.” Larger shipments come through the hospital’s receiving dock and are brought to the store’s own storage room – which is about twice the size of the shops – in the basement.
We make people feel good.
– Sylvia Quint
There, they are sorted, cleaned and priced. The sisters are thrilled that a retired teacher walked into the shop one day and offered to take the tarnish off the silver, a weekly task that he finds relaxing.
Besides tableware, all other wares, such as art, jewelry, handbags and a considerable amount of Judaica, from seder plates to menorahs, are welcomed. Any sterling (as opposed to plate) Judaica is snapped up.
On display this day in the K Pavilion site was an unusual 12-cup Kiddush wine fountain, as well as a Lladro porcelain Hebrew scholar figurine.
The sisters know quality when they see it, but the Internet helps them evaluate the items. Prices are negotiable, of course.
They refuse very little, yet almost everything is sold. A few slow movers end up on the $10 bargain shelf and items that are ultimately rejected are put in the hospital staff room, to be taken for free.
There are regular customers who buy something nearly every week.
The stores attract a lot of browsers, whether staff, patients or visitors. “People say, ‘Oh, I remember my mother had one like that’,” said Rotholz. “It makes them nostalgic. We have patients come in after chemo, or with tubes hanging from them.”
Adds Quint, “We make people feel good; it’s not only about money.”
The sisters stipulate that The Auxiliary use the proceeds for equipment that directly contributes to patients’ comfort, such as special chairs in the dialysis department.
Spector now spends the winter in Florida, and Rotholz and Quint are also planning extended vacations this year. So any extra pair of hands would be appreciated, as well as more treasures, they say.