Gracie Garcia was a world traveler, who has floated down a river in India while looking up at the stars in a houseboat, explored the Hermitage Museum in a Russian palace, and partaken in countless other adventures.
She not only took in the surroundings, but she always made sure to take a piece back with her, of all shapes and sizes. The lifetime collector was drawn to the beauty she found in paintings, furniture and anything else that caught her eye.
Her next big adventure was scheduled for June, when she was set to travel to Budapest. But the Hungarian city will not have the opportunity to welcome her.
Garcia, the owner of Gilroy Antiques for more than 30 years and a downtown icon, died on Feb. 10 following a stroke she suffered in December. She was 82.
Tika Burns, one of Garcia’s four children, said her mother was passionate about antiques for as long as anyone can remember. She rejected most newly made things, son David Garcia said, possibly because they could not match the beauty and quality of something that has been around for generations.
“I don’t think in our entire life she ever went into a new furniture store,” he said. “She always bought beautiful used stuff.”
Every international trip would result in a new item, or multiple things, for her collection.
“The world is her marketplace,” David said.
Garcia was born in San Jose in 1939, growing up in Campbell and graduating from Campbell High School.
The family lived in San Jose until moving to Morgan Hill in 1969, where Garcia pursued her other love of animals. They moved to a home on Fifth Street in Gilroy in 1977, where Garcia lived up until her passing.
While living in Gilroy, Garcia commuted to manage the Main Street Exchange in Los Gatos. But after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake damaged the building, Garcia began floating around the idea of opening her own store, preferably closer to home.
It was about this time that the hardware store at 7445 Monterey St. in downtown Gilroy had closed up shop, leaving the building available. Garcia purchased the building, and Gilroy Antiques opened its doors.
Countless people have walked through the doors to view and purchase Garcia’s eclectic displays of furniture, kitchenware, artwork, jewelry and any type of collectible imaginable, or just to chat with the proprietor herself. She was known to make friends with anyone who stepped foot into Gilroy Antiques, and she often invited people to view the large apartment upstairs that would make any collector swoon.
Most of her store’s merchandise was acquired through private parties, according to a previous Dispatch article, where Garcia described herself as a collector first and dealer second. Her taste in goods definitely leaned toward the Victorian era, her children said.
“I love that store. It’s like a cocktail party without the cocktails,” Garcia said in a 2015 interview with the Dispatch. “I meet people everyday of my life. I’m by myself and I’m never lonesome, because I get so much fulfillment in the store.”
Living life on her terms
Veteran downtown retailer Dave Peoples said he knew Garcia long before she opened Gilroy Antiques, as the two met thanks to their combined love of antiques.
Peoples said Garcia was a “wealth of information” who was the go-to person for anyone trying to identify a certain item. He added that Garcia was always excited to see her friends, and was quick to land a kiss, with Peoples joking that he always had to “wipe the lipstick off my cheek” before returning home to his wife.
“There’s no question that Gracie was her own person,” he said. “Gracie was just one of those unique people that when you met her, you were friends.”
The two may not have seen eye-to-eye on certain things, and “there might have been a year when we didn’t talk,” Peoples recalled, but their friendship remained strong for more than four decades.
“She had friends all over the world,” he said. “Wherever Gracie went, she had friends.”
Peoples said he never got the chance to drop off bread and jam for Garcia to continue the longtime Christmas tradition this past December, as her store was closed when he stopped by, not knowing that she had the stroke just days before.
He added he still has that bread with her name on it in his refrigerator.
“She was a wonderful person,” he said. “We are really going to miss her.”
Linda Ashford of Ashford’s Heirlooms said she’s known Garcia for about 30 years, having met her at a business mixer, commenting on her “huge fur coat.”
Ashford said Garcia warned her that the antiques business was not something you pursued if you wanted to make money, but rather, you had a passion for beautiful things. It’s advice that Ashford has taken to heart.
She said Garcia would always stop by the store to chat, putting her “Be back in 20 minutes” sign on Gilroy Antiques.
“She wouldn’t hesitate to lock the door up and come down to visit,” Ashford said. “She would always shop and she would always find something beautiful. She just loved beautiful things.”
Since the 1990s, Kim Dorris Rossi of Leedo Art and Framing has framed numerous paintings and “little treasures” for Garcia.
The two became fast friends.
“All you have to do is spend five minutes with her,” Rossi said. “I realized I want to be just like her when I grow up. She lived life on her own terms. She told you how it was, and you got to love a person for that. The honesty is paramount.”
Rossi said she last saw Garcia as she was walking to Old City Hall for dinner. The two hugged, with Garcia telling Rossi, “I love you more.”
“You know, we’ve got the memories, we got the stories, those smiles, those red lips, that blonde hair,” she said. “She was beautiful inside and out.”
A void in the family
The future of Gilroy Antiques remains uncertain. But passersby can still get a feel for Garcia’s taste in collectibles as well as her humor, as evidenced by a sign outside that notifies those who do not wear a mask inside the store must have their temperature taken, “and we only have rectal thermometers.”
Planning is underway for a celebration of life.
“She was the most wonderful mom, and I’m going to miss her dearly,” David Garcia said.
Burns said her mother was very happy with her life, and her caring personality always wanted to see others lead a great life.
“She just loved her life and loved what she did,” she said, adding that she would call her mother nearly every morning as Garcia was doing her crossword puzzle. “She loved everybody she met. Everyone she knew in Gilroy will tell you they felt very close to mom after meeting her.”