By Dave Allston –
Crazy Carl is the new kid on the block in antiques and collectibles in Hintonburg but Carl Spano is no rookie when it comes to memorabilia and curio, having spent much of his adult life wheeling and dealing in the fine art of basement finds and attic treasures.
There’s been a buzz around Crazy Carl’s Antiques, and for good reason. A resurgence in the popularity of vintage items has seen people flocking to local bazaars, sales and flea markets in grand numbers. The Wellington West strip was formerly home to several antique and collectible stores, until a decade ago when the market cooled and the commercial real estate market heated up, forcing virtually all the neighbourhood shops to close down.
Seizing an opportunity to set up shop in the thriving community, Carl has brought his personable and price-friendly approach to the business, which has shoppers keeping him busy.
The nickname “Crazy” was given to him by a friend in the antiquing business (Christian from Antique Hoarders in Britannia), and within the community, the name stuck.
“I don’t know if I like it or not anymore” jokes Carl. “Everywhere I go someone shouts ‘Hey, there’s Crazy!’ I’m labelled now.”
A long time resident of Hintonburg, Carl got his start in the flea market business in the early 1970s, when he rented a table at the classic weekly Stittsville sale that made the village name synonymous with “flea market.” For his first show, his mom called all their family and had them clear out their basements, to provide him his first stock. It was the beginning of 40+ years in the business, which until recently was only a part time gig.
Dreaming at a chance to trade in his unsatisfying career as a house painter for something he loves, it all came together when Carl stumbled across this location by accident. (It’s tucked in an easy-to-miss location at 233 Armstrong St., across from the Parkdale Park Fieldhouse.)
“I came here to rent a storage locker, asked if this place was for rent and they said it was,” he says. Soon after, on September 1, 2014, Crazy Carl’s opened its doors.
The building which started life in 1934 as the Springwell Dairy, and was once a storefront for construction equipment, a bottling plant, and later a shoe manufacturing factory, is quite no-frills, but it’s a cozy atmosphere that lacks the pretentiousness of antique shops found elsewhere.
What’s most noticeable at Crazy Carl’s are the prices. Items are priced to sell. “We like to see things leave here, quicker than they come,” says Carl.
You can tell Carl gets great pleasure from finding a good home for his items, and may even be generous to a fault, evidenced by the fact he’s been overheard bargaining his own prices down.
He dispels a common misconception about antique shoppers.
“Everyone says it’s the old people buying stuff, but here we get mostly young people. In fact, originally I wanted this to be a ‘Man Store’ but most of the people coming here are young women, between thirty and forty. Though we do get the old guys too.”
As a result of low prices and the shop’s growing popularity, there is a high turnover rate in the stock.
“It’s like a football game in here,” says Carl. “In the morning, we move everything around, like throwing out a new defence. What you didn’t see today, you’ll see tomorrow.”
Commendably, you won’t find guns or knives at Carl’s shop. He refuses to sell items that are “in bad taste.”
He keeps a “wish list” as well for about sixty clients, so that collectors have Carl’s eyes and ears working for them full time.
Carl says advertising paraphernalia is a best seller, particularly Coca Cola-branded merchandise.
“We mainly try to concentrate on small things, where people don’t have to take a lot of money out of their pocket.”
There is some organization, but you have to dig to really explore, and that’s just how Carl likes it. “If someone broke in here, they’d be confused. They wouldn’t know what to take,” he jokes.
In just over a year, he has become a recognizable face in Kitchissippi, equally as popular with the residents as the businesses who frequent his shop (and vice-versa); he was even wearing a Wellington Diner cap the day of this interview.
Carl has a lot of pride in his work, but especially the neighbourhood. He’s not that crazy at all; in fact, he’s simply a perfect fit for eclectic and unique Hintonburg.
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