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Ravenswood Antique Mart Owner: Quality Used to Matter - Not Anymore

By Patty Wetli | April 2, 2015 8:36am | Updated on April 3, 2015 9:35am

LINCOLN SQUARE — Think, for a moment, about the objects for sale at the Ravenswood Antique Mart.

The oldest date back to the 1920s, the newest to the '70s.

Passing from hand to hand, they've witnessed the rise of the automobile, wars, space travel, the invention of the Internet. To the Sputnik chandelier, the cameo handbag, the Mid-Century set of arm chairs, what's one more move, one more change of scenery?

Conversation pieces? DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

But to John Vlachos, the Mart's owner, the loss of his lease at 4727 N. Damen Ave. after 10 years — a mere blip to the nonagenarian Art Deco bracelet — has left him unmoored.

Vlachos, 55, had been operating on a month-to-month lease since January. Last week, "things changed," he said, and he has until April 30 to clear out the shop.

Ravenswood Antique Mart owner John Vlachos. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

"I just have to get through this," Vlachos said.

He hastily affixed signage to the storefront's windows announcing 20, 30, 40 and 50 percent off merchandise.

Patty Wetli discusses the closure: The Ravenswood Antique Mart is closing at the end of April. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

"I'm not reducing any more, just getting rid of what we have," he told a customer who was angling for a better deal.

"It's here now," Vlachos said. "You should buy it now."

Vlachos, by trade, isn't accustomed to dealing in the now.

He's surrounded by artifacts from bygone decades, things that remind him of "a time when people were great," when women dressed for dinner in pearls and heels, when men wore hats, when home furnishings were built to last.

A statement necklace never goes out of style. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

"This magazine rack, that's just sexy. The proportions make sense," Vlachos said, pointing to a slender wooden model near the front of the shop.

"If they made that today, it would be veneer. Or hormone-injected wood that will split," he said. "Today, most people just think price point, not a lifetime."

Mid-century simplicity of style. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

His ideal clients are fellow "old souls," he said.

People like Adam and Johanna Starr, who wandered into the Mart after seeing the closing sale advertised on Craigslist.

The couple, who live in Uptown, purchased a vintage hygrometer, which measures humidity and looks darned good while doing it.

A vintage hygrometer, used to measure humidity. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

"I'm drawn to the beauty of objects," said Johanna, who has a degree in interior design.

"Don't get me wrong, we go to Target too," she said. But with vintage, "the form was important, not just the function."

That kind of appreciation for the finer things is something that came naturally to Vlachos — "I had it in me," he said — but was also nurtured.

"We didn't have money," he said of his family. "But my parents were cultured."

Sputnik-style, "Atomic Age" design. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Growing up in Lakeview near Lincoln and Belmont, back when the area was a hub for the city's antique stores, Vlachos said he couldn't help but develop an affinity for collecting.

Though he majored in communications in college, his real passion was for "the things that feed your soul — art, music, reading," Vlachos said.

In 1990, he opened his first store at Broadway and Addison and called it Mid-Century. Though he didn't coin the term, few people were familiar with the phrase at the time, he said.

No wallflower here. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Among Vlachos' most important mentors was Chicago entertainer Georgia Drake (real name: Georgia Tsarpalas), a study, he said, in glamour and elegance. A singer and dancer, Drake was an early television personality, star of her own program, "The Georgia Drake Show" on Ch. 7.

When she died, she left Vlachos a good portion of her jewelry and accessories, several pieces of which are on display behind glass at the Mart. He keeps a framed photo of Drake in the shop — the frame is for sale, the picture isn't.

John Vlachos, with a photo of Georgia Drake, a style mentor. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Though Vlachos is loathe to play favorites among his inventory — "I can't pick," he said when pressed to single out an item or two — he will steer visitors toward a Bakelite purse, priced just under $1,500, that belonged to Drake.

"It's one of only three made," he said. "You had to have taste and money."

Bakelite purse, not for the faint of wallet. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Though the handbag could easily join other Bakelite items in a museum, plenty of objects at the Mart — martini glasses, serving trays and sexy magazine racks — are intended for every day use, even if by today's standards they seem destined for special occasions.

"We've become lazy," Vlachos said. "Beauty takes effort."

Martini glasses with personality. DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Still a market remains for vintage, Vlachos said.

The question is whether he'll be the one to serve it.

Will the Mart reappear at a different location? Will he move all of his inventory to the web?

Vlachos didn't have an answer. He's still processing the shop's closing, the suddenness of which caught him without a Plan B.

"Everything is up in the air," Vlachos said.

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