Larry and Joyce Phegley deal in keeping the past alive
By Bernie Schmitt
Walking into the crowded, yet sprawling confines of the Shakers Landing Antique Store in Vincennes is like taking a step into yesteryear.
Hundreds, if not thousands of antique items ranging from furniture to tools, as well as a special collection of doors, windows, and other antique building materials.
Operating Shakers Landing Antiques as well the Old Northwest Framery keeps owners Larry and Joyce Phegley quite busy.
“We work hard at it,” Joyce says. “It seems like the work is never-ending.”
Much of their time is spent buying antiques, cleaning items, or repairing them. They get a couple of days off a week, but they still answer the phone and often they use that time to travel for buying antiques. Joyce does the bookkeeping for the businesses, as well as most of the work at the frame shop.
The Phegleys have owned Shakers Landing since 2006, but turning it into the business they envisioned has taken time. They buy and sell antiques, but they are not licensed appraisers.
“We can maybe guess what something might be worth based on its age or rarity, but we are not appraisers,” Larry Phegley said.
The previous owners of the sprawling complex at 18th and Willow streets once included 60 different dealers within the building. But, some of the merchandise was not necessarily antique. Now, the Phegleys have control of their own merchandise and allow only eight actual antique dealers within the store.
“We had to look at this as a business and not as a hobby,” Larry said. “Yes,” Joyce says, “We were determined that this was going to be an antique store.”
Drawing talent leads to frame shop business
The frame shop business is separate, but within the same building. The Phegleys bought that business in 2002 when it was housed on Main Street. It was a natural purchase for Larry, as he also is an artist, a talent he developed in his spare time when working his previous job for a cleaning and restoration company.
“I picked up drawing when I was in the trucking business and had long layovers,” he said. “One day I saw this gas pump and drew it. Later I put an old store in it, too, and sold it. Then I did some covered bridges and other things.”
Phegley says he’s had not formal training in art. He learned, he said, “by trial and error,” figuring out what worked and what didn’t. Several of his pencil and charcoal drawings, black and white ink drawings, and watercolors, are displayed and for sale at Shakers Landing.
While he doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to art, he lately has been involved in creating reproductions of old maps.
“I’ve always liked old maps,” he said. “All of this pertains to history and people enjoy them.”
Reproductions of his “Forts and Trails of the Lower Wabash 1817” map has been printed five or six times. He has maps on the Buffalo Trace, state historic sites, and more.
Larry was not new to antiques, either. He had delivered to over a thousand antique shops during 23 years of driving.
“You can’t do that without picking up valuable information,” he said. “It kind of got in my blood.”
Plus, his brother Mike had gotten into the antique business in the 1970s, “so I’ve always been around them,” he said. They have learned, over the years, much about the business. In addition to their travels and experience, they’ve done their share of research, too.
“If we’ve not seen something before, we look it up,” Larry says.
Overall, the current state of the antique market is down, the Phegleys said, though they are not sure anyone knows why.
“We have good months and bad months,” Larry said. “But we make what we think is a decent living, though it doesn’t seem to be changing.”
One of the most common reasons given for some of the decline is that young people aren’t taking up hobbies like they used to, and some people are not as interested in antiques as they once were. However, the Phegleys get their share of business.
“A large part of our business comes from people who use antique pieces to incorporate into their remodeling projects,” Joyce said. “You have to have what people want.”
On a hot day in June, two sales at the shop were items the customers were going to use in re-purposing. One customer bought an iron gate to be incorporated into a door, and another bought old pulleys and rope with which to make a light.
The Phegleys say they love to deal in architectural materials, having an entire section devoted to that, in a covered outdoor area. They also like Victorian materials.
“We look for unusual things, but so do all antique buyers,” Larry said. “The key is to try to keep the cost down.”
What often drives the market are things that either parents or grandparents once had, or toys people might have played with as a child. Some of these items, though not technically antique, are sometimes called “vintage” items.
On occasion, the store gets some foreign items, such as fine porcelain from Germany, or a sign from a street in Paris, brought home to the U.S. by a veteran of World War II. One of their most interesting finds was trousers from a Nazi military uniform, found in an old army duffel bag in an old bar.
“People usually want to know as much as we can about an item,” Joyce said. “We’re the same way when we buy. We ask how the person came by it, where it might be from. Most people want to know that.”
Between the two of them, they keep their love of history and their business going with the skills they have acquired. They work in a place that keeps the past alive.
“Joyce and I both have talents that we’ve turned into skills, so together it works pretty well,” Larry said. “We just try to keep one step ahead of the competition.”