EAST VILLAGE — The cigar-chomping proprietor of a longtime flea market just off the Bowery that recalls the neighborhood's more freewheeling days is folding up his tent — literally.
Billy’s Antiques and Props, the tented antiques shop on East Houston Street operated by local dealer Billy Leroy, is set to be replaced by a new building that will house a version of the iconic neighborhood store.
Leroy's idiosynchratic shop — which sells everything from antique furniture to subway signs and all manner of oddities — will come down early in the new year to make way for a 2-story commercial building, he explained.
But with a television career calling, the person who may care least about the closure is Leroy himself.
“Another winter in that place just makes you want to hang yourself,” said the well-dressed, tattoo-covered character, who has run the store since 1990. “It is just time. It really is a leaking, rotting tent.”
Leroy's antique expertise won't be lost during the closure, as he was recently tapped to co-host a new Travel Channel series about hunting down wares.
“It is like ‘Storage Wars’ — we bid on lost luggage at airports around the world,” Leroy said said of the new series, ‘Baggage Battles,’ which is slated to premiere in 2012. So far, Leroy has traveled to London and Miami to film episodes.
Leroy — who made headlines last year when he was accused last year of selling stolen subway signs, before ultimately having the charges dropped and most of his signs returned — is planning a week-long wake for the shop that will conclude with the tent being buried under the foundation of the new building.
The wake will be done in collaboration with filmmakers Jenner Furst and Daniel Levin, who made a film starring Leroy called “Dirty Old Town,” and the burial idea came courtesy of property owner Tony Goldman.
“He is like the 1 percent, but he is cool,” said Leroy, praising his landlord, who is also responsible for the series of high-profile murals along East Houston Street next to the shop.
Goldman, who founded Goldman Properties 1968, also helped fund “Dirty Old Town," which focused on the seedier aspects of the quickly gentrifying Lower East Side.
The new, 2-story property will be constructed and ready to open in less than a year, built from imported antique bricks, Leroy said. While he hasn't signed a formal lease with Goldman, he said he has a verbal agreement and will rent the space month to month, just like the tent. Goldman did not immediately return a call for comment.
The new retail space will offer about half the square-footage of the tent, Leroy noted, but obviously with a more modern touch.
"It will be smaller and a little more high-end," Leroy said, adding he won't necessarily be dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis when it opens. "It will definitely have the same creepy dark vibe, because that is my style."
During the closure, which was first reported by The New York Times, Leroy said he will have enough contacts to conduct business through appointments.
He will also be busy with the television show.
“It was really weird, but it happened at the same time,” Leroy said of his tent’s demise coinciding with the show. “Nothing happens at the same time. It is always a nightmare.”
Leroy, who is no stranger to the camera, recently appeared in a commercial for XL Energy Drink earlier this year in addition to the fim and other TV appearances.
But despite the fame, Leroy is approaching his potential new career with caution.
"You can’t just walk around and look like a dick," he said. "I have to be myself.'