Selling the past
Sometimes — when he's feeling melancholy or just to keep the machine humming — Frank Tyrrell turns on his Seeburg jukebox, listens to retro hits like "Dancing Queen" by Abba, revels at the sound he deems to be unparreled in the jukebox industry and reminisces on the days of yore. Tyrrell, 77, has owned Tyrrell's Antiques on 6429 S.W. Macadam Boulevard in Southwest Portland since 1984. And it's items like this jukebox that keep him coming back day after day. "Every record on there is from my teenage years," Tyrrell said. "Most of them I can remember where I was when I heard it." Before owning an antique shop, Tyrrell sold everything from encyclopedias, to photos, to insurance but hadn't found a job that was worth more to him than a steady paycheck. Tyrrell remembers waiting outside while his girlfriend perused an antique shop many decades ago, but became fascinated by them after the girlfriend filled her art shop with antiques as accessory items. The couple split up, but Tyrrell's passion continued. "I bought a couple books on antiques. I started going to antique
shows, auctions," Tyrrell said. "I just fell in love with it and decided this is what I want to do the rest of my life." Tyrrell owned his first antique shop in Evanston, Illinois before heading West to Seattle, where he met his wife — a Portland native. Then, they moved to Portland. "I thought, I'm 40 years old. My kids are all in Texas. I don't own any property. I'm not in any relationships. I might never get this chance again (to move)," he said. For most of the past 34 years, Tyrrell ran the shop out of the upstairs of the building on Macadam and rented out the rest of the building to other businesses. And the shop mostly sold old advertisements and movie posters. In his office now, he has a Standard Oil advertisement from 1880, a Mazda calendar from 1927 and a steamboat advertisement from 1860. Tyrrell treasures old advertisements because they were handmade rather than crafted digitally. "Take Sports Illustrated today and you open it up and you've got 55 shiny pages. Then you take a Ladies Home Journal from 1913, and start going through it. Every ad was hand done so the person has put themselves into that magazine where this one is com
puter generated," he said. "There's no personality (in modern ads). There's no warmth, no history." Some other novel items available include a framed World Series flyer passed out by New York Central Railroad every inning during the World Series, which documented a home run by Yankee legend Lou Gehrig; the first batch of hot wheels, which uniquely had tires colored with red lines; and a toy depicting Kraft Television Theatre's cameraman emblem, which would roll across the television screen after the latest episode of the Ed Sullivan Show. "I walked into a mall, saw it and said, 'I want it.' I didn't care what it costs," Tyrrell said of the toy cameraman.
Part of his business entails buying rare items for a low price and reselling them for a much higher price. For instance, he sold a slot machine that dispensed gum for $12,000 after paying $1,900 to purchase it. "Maybe it was just a sense of the past," Tyrell said of his appreciation for antiques. "I loved the hunt. I love going out and finding things and restoring them or selling them." In the evenings after the annual Expo Center event for antique dealers, Tyrrell would invite enthusiasts to his shop to drink beer, while Tyrrell showed off the array of items and prodded guests to purchase memorabilia. Tyrrell said he would make $1,200 at the expo and $6,000 that evening. "People who came from out of town had nothing to do at night. 'Let's go over to Tyrrell's. They're open,'" he said. The 21st century, though, hasn't been kind to Tyrrell and antique shop owners generally. The rise of eBay made rare items accessible and led enthusiasts to purchase items online rather than frequenting local shops. And Tyrrell said interest in antiques has waned, particularly among younger generations. He imagines that the industry will be virtually nonexistent in 20 years. "The main reason I feel is the kids today, the millenials have never been
exposed to it. When there were still families maybe the husband and wife liked antiques and they drag the kids to the antique show and the kids don't want to go. They're bored. But they see a marble. All the sudden they're collecting marbles," he said. "I started collecting advertising because I loved it. It just hit me. So now we have a marble collector. His brother picked up a hot wheel. He's a hot wheel collector," Tyrrell said. "Once you're a collector you're stuck kid." But Tyrrell's has diversified in recent years. The shop now includes hundreds of vinyl records from the mid-20th century, comic books and band posters. And, with Tyrrell no longer serving as landlord, the entire downstairs area is filled with antiques. "I'm not a really good landlord. One guy stuck me for $10,000. Another guy stuck me for $6,000," Tyrrell said. "So I said, maybe I'm not supposed to be a landlord. Why don't we just remodel downstairs." Tyrrell could retire but doesn't know what he would do with himself. Instead, he said he plans to run the shop until his last breaths. "Probably the day I die," Tyrrell said about how long he would continue running the shop. " I love it. I've been very fortunate in life that my business has also been my hobby."