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Another Time — Another Place — That's History and Antiques

End of an Era: Thieves Market Closing

An area antique mecca says goodbye. Will it be a last hurrah or just a change of venue?

During the Mount Vernon Town Meeting on Jan. 26, it was announced that Thieves Market, the "Harvard" of antique malls, had been sold. All dealers will be gone by spring. And future plans for the site are unknown or, at least, undisclosed.

"Thieves Market isn't dying, just moving to a new location. Maybe. It's the end of an era and the beginning of a new one." That was the surreptitious explanation given by its owner, Kaplan Cohen.

"I sold it to a group of investors, but I don't know their plans for the site." As the oldest ongoing antique mall in the country, according to Cohen, its been on Route 1 for 40 years. For 10 years before that, it was located in Falls Church.

"It's been a good run in this building, but I'm the last of the Mohicans, and they're not going to bury me in Fairfax County with the rest of the clan," Cohen stated. "My father operated the mall before me.

"Perhaps I'll open a new Thieves Market in Florida or merely operate it on the Internet. We're selling a lot online now. We are picking up customers who are all over the world," Cohen explained.

But Thieves Market, located at 8101 Richmond Highway, is not, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, going out with a whimper but rather with a bang. Cohen plans to have the mother of all auctions "probably during the first week of May.

"The auction will be for all the Thieves Market items. The dealers are either selling their merchandise or planning to move to different locations," Cohen noted.

Some of the items to be on the auction block are extremely rare. They include the following:

* Grandmother's Predictions, a mannequin of a old woman fortuneteller in a glass and walnut encasement that was originally in a Pennsylvania amusement park. Put in your coin and get your fortune. Cohen predicts it will bring upward of $20,000;

* A multilevel crystal chandelier that once served as the magnificent centerpiece of Washington's Shoreham Hotel. It is joined by several other huge chandeliers that were designed to hang in the mansions of the past or the most luxurious of hotels;

* A stained-glass door nearly 7 feet high, worth, possibly, another $22,000;

* A large, nearly 6 feet across, wood and stained-glass circular encasement from a New York City cathedral;

* The brass directory from the D.C. Transit Building. It has not been touched since it was emancipated and still bears the original names and room listings;

* An original Georgetown University Shop sign. One of the premier shopping stops of its time.

A LOCATION OR PREDICTION?

But one item in particular stands out, for not only its eclectic appeal but also for its relevance to the metro area. It is the 5-feet-high, 4-feet-long, cast iron sign designating "Lovers' Leap."

Contrary to its morbid and somewhat quixotic headline, it was produced by the West Virginia Department of Archives and History in 1971 to introduce visitors to a panorama of the three states of West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

According to the inscription, Lovers' Leap "overlooks the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was started by George Washington and associates in order to improve communications with the West." The success of its mission remains a subject of debate.

One of Thieves Market's longest-standing dealers is Francoise's Antiques, immediately to the right of the front entrance. She offers a wide variety of items from furniture to jewelry.

"I've been here 24 years, and I've decided it’s time to retire," she said. "I'm going to sell off my inventory. We have known for a year about the closing. It didn't come as a surprise."

At the other end of the spectrum is Edith Graciela Sanabria of Grace Jewelry. She has been a Thieves Market tenant for only one year but has been in business for 10 years.

"I do shows and will be selling from my home on Kings Highway, as well as at antique fairs and over the Internet. Before I came here, I was doing only shows," she explained.

Antiques aren't Sanabria's only interest. "I write children's books and poetry. I also paint. But mostly I sell jewelry, all around the world," she said. Her children's books and poetry have been published, and she is the head of a local group of authors and artists.

ROUTE 1'S LOSS - OLD TOWN'S GAIN

Two of Thieves Market's most prominent dealers have taken up new residence in Old Town Alexandria — Sackville Galleries and The Scarlet Fox. The latter opened a new store at 320 Prince St. last July, and the former is in the process of moving to 1009 King St.

"I'm staying here until it closes, but I've just gotten into my new location on King Street," said Russell B. Niblett, proprietor, Sackville Galleries. "I've been here seven years, and it has been great. It truly is the end of an era."

Niblett's main specialty is 19th and 20th century painting, but the gallery also offers a wide variety of furniture and specialty items.

"To have this disappear is really heart-breaking," Sally Motley, proprietor, The Scarlet Fox, said. "We have already located in Old Town, but we are also here till it closes."

Pat Fagge, who described herself as the silver lady, noted that "Thieves Market had 36 dealers at one time." She works with The Scarlet Fox. Sandra Abell and Lynn Marlin also operate the Old Town location, according to Motley.

The business card of the Scarlet Fox states they deal in art, accessories, chandeliers, silver, crystal, porcelain and furniture. Why the name "Scarlet Fox?" The card also states, Sally Motley, proprietor, a k a "Scarlet."

"The end of an era" and "a new beginning." Cohen probably summed it up best with his assessment, "I still have a lot of living to do, and with the proposed plans for the Route 1 expansion, the road is supposed to come right through here anyway."