Goodbye, Stranger | The House in Broadway Fillmore

May 10, 2013 2 Comments

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vintage, aged wedding card with a bell and flowers on the front

Photo illustration | Charlotte Hsu

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The door to the small gray house in Buffalo’s Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood opens, letting in the morning air.

A parade of strangers steps into the living room. They have come to see the old woman’s things: her brocade-patterned sofa ($150), her Quartz-brand clock ($25), and the sewing patterns for vintage dresses that she must have kept for years ($2 apiece).

They have come to see her plates and bowls. They have come to view her wine glasses, including the ones with the pretty silver rims. They are rifling through her sewing kits. They are examining her spools of thread. There are 38 shades of pink and red in one box alone. Red the color of an apple. Pink like cotton candy.

The woman moved out not long ago, and now, her home is the site of an estate sale. For two or three days, her private domain will become public.

Palm-sized Christian Crosses, which may have soothed her in a time of grief, are going for $3 to $8 each.

On a table lie the woman’s wedding cards, browned and faded with age:

outside of a vintage wedding card with wedding rings

inside of a vintage wedding card

outside of a vintage wedding card with bride and groom

inside of a vintage wedding card

outside of a vintage wedding card with a candle and bride

inside of a vintage wedding card

Tiny flecks of gold glitter fall off one of the notes, happy relics of a party long past. 1947 was the year they married.

The wedding cards are selling for $3 (for all of them).

George Armbruster, the appraiser running the sale, said the lady who lived here was 86. A longtime resident of the area, she didn’t want to leave — this was her home, and she felt that way even as the neighborhood grew poorer, as houses around her fell apart and vacant lots proliferated.

Her bungalow was modest, nothing special from the street. But inside were her memories.

People who frequent estate sales say part of the allure is the ability to step, for a moment, into another person’s world.

Liquidator Charmaine Then remembers entering the home of a 96-year-old woman and finding a library filled with books on women’s rights. The sight was moving — all those tomes that bore witness to a woman ahead of her time.

Nikki McIntosh, 29, owner of Wise Apple Vintage, an Etsy store that sells recycled treasures, remembers one house that was “super-swinging ’60s.”

“Everything was super Space Odyssey, neon green shag,” she recalls, with a laugh. “And I do mean everything. … They must have stopped shopping in 1968.”

The closets were full of flamboyant outfits. Fur! Sequins! Bright pinks and oranges! The man who lived there wore leisure suits, each with a matching vest. The basement bar had cordials for whiskey, collins glasses for cocktails.

“You’re pretty much digging through somebody’s life, and at first, it can be weird, but it’s [also] kind of neat. It’s a look at how somebody else built their house and the things they filled it with.”

— Shawn Peters, 30, owner of Etsy shop compostthis and estate sale patron

Many homes are like a time warp, and it’s always interesting to rummage around and piece together a picture of who the residents were, McIntosh said.

She used to think estate sales were morbid, but over time her opinion changed.

Would it really be better for the belongings of the departed to wind up in a Dumpster? It makes McIntosh happy to think that she is breathing new life into old treasures.

Still, there are heavy-hearted moments.

“I still can’t really go through the clothes because that makes me feel sad for some reason,” McIntosh said.

Armbruster, co-owner of the company Sales by George, said the estate sale business has taught him compassion for the elderly.

He returns to the story about the woman in Broadway-Fillmore. After holding out for years, she capitulated to a family member who was worried for her safety, and she agreed to leave her home, Armbruster remembers.

“When I went in for the interview, she was so depressed,” he said. “She was crying.”

Armbruster worried that she was making the wrong decision, but her mind was set, so all he could do was help her through her anguish.

He listened to her story and gave her his time. And then, the week of the sale, he did his job and helped her find buyers for the objects in the home that was once the center of her life.

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2 Comments → “Goodbye, Stranger | The House in Broadway Fillmore”

  1. Patty McClain 1 year ago   Reply

    Your story takes me right into the homes. I don’t go to many estate sales but they are a treasure trove of stories as well as bargains or interesting items.

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  1. My 5¢ – 05/18/2013 | In da Buff (Buffalo, New York) - 1 year ago

    [...] I loved their recent piece about an estate sale in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. [...]

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