Say what you will about downtown Gilroy, one of its unabashed fans is Bruce Dane, whose Garbo’s Antiques has been a mainstay on Monterey Street for 25 years.
He came up with a marketing scheme that has kept people coming from far away to visit his store of collectibles and rarities and fought off competition from eBay.
“When we first opened, we spent all our money in the Los Angeles area advertising,” he says. “We got a lot of customers. Because I found out that when you mentioned Gilroy in San Francisco, people went, eww, but in L.A., they think Gilroy is charming. Of course, they don’t like Pomona.”
The downtown antique business is hanging on, with eight shops, down from 14 a few years back. The Internet has cut into business, but Garbo’s has hung on by collecting unique and unusual pieces from 27 different consignors, including one based in Sweden who sells rare Steiff toys and visits his display case several times a year.
“You have to love this business if you are going to do it,” says Dane. “I really love it.”
He didn’t love it when he was a kid in San Jose and his father dragged him into antiquing. But then one day, when he was 25, something hit. He saw a dragon vase and he had to have it. He was bitten by the bug.
The hardest part of his job, he says, is doing the research to document what people are dusting off and selling.
The Internet has changed the business by making information a lot more accessible, Dane says. Years back, people might have tried to sell fake goods, but now it’s too easy to check up on what is truly antique.
“It changed the whole business completely because you are competing with the whole world now,” he says of the Internet. “When someone comes in, they have the whole world at their fingertips so you have to be competitive. It’s different because a lot of things have gone up in value and a lot have gone down.”
Down? Depression glass, old pottery. “They were popular with a different generation and either those people have all they want or they’ve died.”
Up? Men’s items like razors, shaving equipment, cameras, knives and mid-century designed furniture. Also collectibles from the 1970s and 1980s.
The store has some fine condition comic books and Bob Dylan albums. It also has some amazing steals—a windup Victrola from the 1930s or 1940s that plays perfectly and comes with a large wood cabinet, goes for $300. Disney and poodle ceramics are $25 or less. The most expensive items are a golf statue and an 1880s seed wreath, both of which are over $2,000.
But you could spend hours in this Smithsonian-like collection of cool antiquities and not see it all. The owners picked the name randomly—and are sure to tell people that because they were once confronted by a relative of Greta Garbo’s who told them she should own the business because they used her name.
Is the store bustling with holiday shoppers?
“Not really,” says Dane. “Our biggest months are January, February and March. Then comes December. Those months are when people buy what they want for themselves that they didn’t get for Christmas.”