Stepping into Ye Old Curiosity Shop is like climbing into grandmother's attic to search for treasures.
The roof might be sagging, the floor creaking and the paint peeling on the 100-year-old, run-down clapboard cottage at Aldino and Churchville roads in Churchville, but once inside, any collector's heartbeat will quicken at the sight of thousands of relics jammed into the 1,600-square-foot space.
Hidden in a dusty corner next to a 1960s cardboard "Mr. Peanut" advertisement is a rare 1870s stained-glass window with a pine-pegged frame for a bargain $495.
But before you can examine it more closely, you must squeeze past shelves and tables holding everything from Civil War memorabilia to turn-of-the-century carpenter's tools to Depression glass and gold-rimmed tea cups.
And then there are toys -- wind-up, friction and battery operated. And Indian artifacts, military and Boy Scout patches, cardboard product boxes, antique cameras, baby bottles, advertising signs, ancient toothpaste, and even a human skull for $250.
Looking for a pair of shoes? There's an almost new pair of brown alligator pumps from the 1940s -- size 8 1/2 B for $40.
Sitting behind a cluttered counter, his slightly graying hair pulled into a ponytail, and puffing on a cigarette, is Bob Rioux, the shop's owner.
While dusting off a small section of the counter top and pushing a few things aside, he looks up, lets his eyes wander across the room and says: "One man's junk is another man's treasure."
Banking on that motto, Mr. Rioux, 46, has been making a living selling collectibles and antiques for 21 years -- first in a small house on Pulaski Highway near Edgewood, and for the past 11 years in the Churchville cottage.
Mr. Rioux says he's been collecting everything and anything all his life. And when there was no room left at home to store his treasures, he decided to give up his job with an advertising agency and open his own store.
The shop is open 365 days a year, says Mr. Rioux.
He's never taken a vacation, but admits that working all the time is not difficult, since his vocation is his avocation.
"And, you can't pay your bills if you don't work," he said.
Mr. Rioux, a bachelor, says he earns enough to get by.
"Most of my income though goes right back into stocking the shelves."
He buys most of his inventory from antique dealers and at yard sales -- auctions are too expensive -- and occasionally buys items from or trades with collectors who venture in off the street.
Recently, a man who had been cleaning his basement walked into the store to try to sell a Coca-Cola cooler dating to the early 1970s and Life magazines from the Kennedy era.
Though Coke memorabilia is popular, Mr. Rioux took one look at the cooler and declined to make an offer.
"It's pretty beat up for the '70s, the bottom is rusted -- too well used," he mumbled. Neither did he have any use for the Life magazines.
"Too many of those around."
Had the cooler been in good condition, he would have bought it immediately, Mr. Rioux adds.
Lighting another cigarette, he points to a cardboard Coke carrier propped in an antique chair, next to a Stetson hatbox. Dating to the 1930s, the 12-bottle carrier is in mint condition and will fetch about $60, Mr. Rioux says
"A lot of it is condition," he explained. "It really doesn't matter how old something is. Condition and rarity -- not necessarily age -- determines the price tag."
For example, a 500-year-old piece of iron with virtually no chance of breakage is worth much less than a 35-year-old piece of glass in excellent condition, Mr. Rioux says.
But sometimes old pieces, even if not in the best condition, can bring in more than just a few bucks.
Sitting on a dusty table is a repaired Chinese vase from the Chien-Lung era (1735 to 1795). The price tag reads $495. In mint condition, the vase would sell from $1,200 to $4,500, Mr. Rioux says.
Mr. Rioux points to the repair job on the vase and explains, "That was done in the 1860s."
He gained his knowledge of antiques through years of experience and reading.
"I read every day, always. I have to keep up with what's being reproduced, so I don't get burned," Mr. Rioux said.
Sometimes, he gets lucky while reading. Thumbing through the pages of a book published in 1876, he found a campaign ribbon -- "Tilden for President."
Mr. Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hays in 1877.
But the ribbon, in mint condition, Mr. Rioux sold for $80.