at thriving antiques shop, 'reincarnation' isn't just a name, it's a business plan

Any two-bit picker can wrangle up some cast-offs, display them in a storefront, and call the place an "antiques shop." But spend a little time thumbing through the dusty inventory and you'll soon realize why most of these stores are better billed as "flea markets" -- places where one acquires fleas (and likely bed bugs).
Walk into Reincarnation Vintage Design, however, and you'll be reaching for your wallet faster than an auctioneer yells, "Sold!" Owners Ron and Cyndy Nicolson don't just buy, clean and resell other people's unwanted items; they grant them a whole new life, thus saving them from a slow, undignified death in a landfill.
"Reincarnation" isn't just a name, you see -- it's a business plan.
In Ron's capable hands, a few square yards of salvaged wood paneling become a slick new dining room table. An impossibly chunky and industrial wire conveyor belt is sectioned off into visually compelling -- and likely indestructible -- doormats. Picture a beefy galvanized coal cart, complete with stubborn iron wheels, plucked from an old mine. Now imagine that beast topped with glass, placed in the middle of a kitchen, and used as the home's island.
Reincarnation doesn’t just have shoppers reaching for their credit cards; it leaves them pining for a home large enough to accommodate these repurposed works of art.
"I can buy things that may be nothing to another dealer, but because of what we can do with them, they have a new function," explains Ron on his store's approach.
Despite a $0 advertising budget, lack of a website, and a location that is anything but mall-walker approved, Reincarnation has done nothing but grow during its quiet 11-year existence. For roughly six years, the owners worked out of a cramped 2,000-square-foot storefront within Lorain's "Antiques District." A little over four years ago, the Nicolsons moved their shop across the street to a former plumbing supply warehouse, giving them 6,500 square feet spread across two loft-like floors.
"People always seem to find us just by word of mouth," says Cyndy.
That explains how the business has expanded from selling just retail items to individuals and designers to creating custom works for commercial clients. Among other places, the Nicolson's handiwork can be found at Anne van H. Boutique in Little Italy, and Felice and Fat Cats restaurants, where reclaimed quarter-sawn sycamore replaced dated Formica tabletops.
Walk into Reincarnation and you might never want to leave. A large part of the Nicolson's success is owed to the way they display -- or stage -- their inventory. When dealing with truly one-of-a-kind pieces, it is essential to help the buyer visualize their utility. Cyndy has a designer's eye and closely follows current trends, which helps her transform odd, neglected items into hip, saleable pieces.
I'm guessing the market for a wooden candle-drying rack isn't what it used to be. But in Cyndy's creative mind, the old-timey apparatus becomes a farmhouse-chic wine rack. All around the shop are little hand-written signs that offer suggestions. "Fun! Make a pot rack," reads one dangling tag. Another near a stack of rescued tin ceiling panels says they make a great kitchen backsplash. Filled with modern-day bathroom essentials, an old glass-fronted medical cabinet from the 1920s goes from macabre to shabby-chic!
Of course, to be able to sell great stuff, a shop owner first must acquire great stuff. Over the years, the Nicolsons have cultivated a network of folks eager to help keep the store well stocked. From country pickers to estate sale organizers, the phone rings off the hook with people offering to unload quality merchandise.
"After 11 years of working with them, these people get to know you and your style better," says Cyndy. "You end up with a bigger and better pool to choose from."
Reincarnation is open only on the weekends, leaving the owners time to shop for, work on, and display a fresh crop of groovy stuff. And therein lies the true secret to Reincarnation's success.
"The key to our business doing well is the turn of inventory," says Ron. "Some antique shops become like a museum, with the same stuff there all the time. If you make it so that people know they'll find new things every time they visit, you create that feeling in your customers that they'll miss that special piece if they don't."
When he's not chatting with customers on the floor, Ron is tucked away in his first-floor workshop. If you peek behind the curtain you'll see an ever-expanding stock of wooden doors, architectural columns, wrought iron fencing, the odd copper washtub. His life's work is to turn entirely unessential things into utterly irresistible items and send them on their way. It's a never-ending assignment, but one with great rewards when done right.
"Getting a piece and seeing it through to a finished product is very satisfying," he says. "They are not all successes -- what you see in your mind's eye is not always how it turns out. But when they do, it's great to see that look in your customer's eye."

Find Reincarnation Vintage Design at 7810 Lorain Avenue, 216-651-9806.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Douglas Trattner.

Douglas Trattner is a fulltime freelance writer, editor and author. In addition to acting as Managing Editor of Fresh Water, he is the Dining Editor of Cleveland Scene, author of “Moon Handbooks: Cleveland,” and co-author with Michael Symon on two New York Times best-selling cookbooks. His work has appeared in Food Network magazine, Miami Herald, Globe and Mail, Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Magazine and others. He lives in Cleveland Hts. with his wife, two dogs, five chickens and 20,000 honeybees.
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