At this mall, what's old is trendy

Published January 20, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - Sometimes people just love to collect.

Sometimes they just love to decorate.

Sometimes they like to dabble in both.

Helen McClamma supposes this is the draw for the 27 dealers who rent booth space in her B's Antiques and Collectibles Mini Mall, the business she opened last fall not far from this historic town's quaint downtown district.

Quilts, dollhouses, primitives, old rolling pins, vintage canisters and bread boxes, a child's roll-top desk, an antique wicker baby buggy - even a handsome painting of Franklin Delano Roosevelt - pack the sunny, spacious storefront at 5053 Gall Blvd., which was once a bar.

Helen McClamma is 70 years old, hardly an age you'd expect someone to open their first business.

She also has epilepsy.

Seizure medication makes her tired, she says, and she doesn't want to spend her life sleeping.

"I've always been a person who tried to do for myself," says McClamma, who has worked as a waitress, dry cleaning employee, and restaurant owner She and her husband, Wayne, used to own Fireside Dining in Zephyrhills.

Back then, the McClammas, who have lived in Zephyrhills for 32 years, didn't have the money to decorate their restaurant, so patrons - many of whom were friends and neighbors - poured in with antiques that would cozy up the space.

"They brought old sheet music, hats, sleds, snow skis, old kitchen utensils, an ox yolk, even an old side saddle," she recalls. "That's how it all got started."

McClamma says that antiques add something to a home's dcor because they really make you think about the way people used to live.

"I mean, when I look at a washboard today, I feel really lucky. Imagine people having to scrub their clothes that way."

From their booth in back, Helen and Wayne sell other treasures they have collected over the years, including Barbie dolls and glassware.

Their fellow dealers cut a wide swath in taste, age and profession: An 84-year-old man specializes in antique golf clubs; a 20-something professional soccer player sells vintage jewelry; a retired truck driver sells candles, soaps and jewelry; a high-school art teacher displays her finds, including an antique writer's journal.

"It gives people something to do in their spare time - plus, they can really decorate their space the way they like to," McClamma says of the booths in her antique mall that she opened last September.

Dealers come from all over Hillsborough and Pasco counties to hawk their wares in the shop. Even the bathrooms are decked out with fun and funky collectibles, including an embroidered Mexican baby dress, a Gone With the Wind poster and Zane Grey books (all for sale).

And a well-stocked craft supply area in the back is lovingly stocked by a local woman who is a long-distance truck driver.

Toni and Joe Bonaly, dealers from Valrico, say they love going to antique auctions so much that a booth gives them a way to resell their many treasures when they tire of them.

"I just really like old things," says Toni, 74, a retired accountant who once worked as a blackjack dealer in a Reno casino (yes, she's a great player, too).

Joe Bonaly, 78, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, says he enjoys collecting and selling antiques because "it gives us something to do."

On a sunny Wednesday in January they were dusting their shelves and arranging more finds they had recently nabbed at a local auction in Zephyrhills.

McClamma explained that her late-in-life business also offers her a chance to socialize with many of her old restaurant patrons who still live in Zephyrhills and like to come into the shop.

"A lot of them want to know if my husband is still making his fried chicken - and I say, 'No way,' " she said with a laugh.

McClamma's sister, 72-year-old Barbara Ricardo, runs the old-fashioned soda-fountain style bar - a remnant from the building's tavern days. They don't serve meals, just coffee, soda, snacks and homemade pastry. They also stock big glass jars with penny-style candy like Mary Janes and gummies.

"It gives the husbands something to do while their wives shop," McClamma said.

Ricardo is well known for her homemade chocolates. For the recent Ohio State-Florida game she fashioned dozens of chocolate alligators.

Ricardo, who had just microwaved homemade meatball sandwiches for herself and McClamma, sat on a bar stool and ate her lunch and drank a Coke alongside her sister.

The two said they felt lucky to get to work together.

Ricardo loves to bake.

McClamma loves to collect.

Sometimes the two interests meet.

A 1910 kerosene kitchen stove equipped with glass tanks stood in the center of the store with a well-shaped tin kettle on top.

Thankfully, the curiosity - once displayed on the seller's sun porch - wasn't intended for Ricardo to cook on; it's for sale and its presence attracts a lot of attention from browsers.

A happy smile crosses Ricardo's face: "Can you imagine having to cook on THAT!"

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.