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Griffins & Gargoyles Antiques Closing As Owners Look To Future, Not Past

By Patty Wetli | November 16, 2016 5:54am
 Lincoln Square antique shop Griffins & Gargoyles closing at end of year.
Griffins & Gargoyles Closing
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LINCOLN SQUARE — After 41 years in the antiques business, the owners of Griffins & Gargoyles are ready to live in the present and focus on the future instead of looking to the past.

Father-and-daughter team Roy and Kelly Donovan plan to close their shop at 2140 W. Lawrence Ave. at the end of the year.

"This business is a lot of work," said Kelly Donovan. "I lived here. I would like to have this opportunity with my dad to say, 'Let's do this, let's do that.'"

Hear about Patty's visit with the owners.

The younger Donovan was just 18 years old when her father, an independent sales rep, sat down his seven children and offered them a shot at going into business together.

Kelly was the only one who raised her hand.

"I said, 'Yes,'" she recalled, and it changed her life. "It's the things you say yes to."

The antique shop is closing after 41 years at 2140 W. Lawrence Ave. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Forgoing college for a different kind of education, Kelly joined her father on annual buying trips to Europe, where they set up a base of operations in Antwerp, Belgium, and fanned out from there to France, Germany and the Netherlands.

A Dutch dealer showed the Americans the ropes, introducing them to key sellers, who more often than not operated out of far flung farmhouses.

"When I got there, I witnessed the old way it was in Europe," she said. "It was always people's homes, every place we went it was a relationship."

In the decades before email, she would introduce herself to potential dealers the old-fashioned way: "I used to write letters. 'Dear Hans ... My father and I ...'"

The Donovans would then spend weeks traveling the European countryside with a cooler full of food and drinks, and negotiate purchases around kitchen tables.

"First of all, you got to have the guts to spend the money," she said. "You take a chance."

At the same time, instinct and personal taste are balanced by more practical concerns, Donovan said.

"First you ask, 'How much?' Does it need restoration? Is it going to cost me more money?" she said. "Does it have the chops? That's where my dad and I bounced off each other. You really need that."

After buying enough items to fill a shipping container, Donovan would then negotiate transportation, her load of antiques setting sail for Chicago on freighters returning to the United States after hauling American-made steel to Europe. 

For decades, the Donovans made annual trips to Europe in search of treasures.

While trading in a business that revels in the past, Donovan also had the opportunity to witness history in the making.

"I was over there when the Pope [John Paul II] got shot, I was over there when Chernobyl blew — I saw those skies, I saw those sunsets," she said of the nuclear fallout.

"We went through the wall coming down, we saw the whole East open up," Donovan said.

A freer Europe was initially a boon to business, as dealers gained access to antiques in former Iron Curtain countries like Czechoslovakia, she said.

"Oh my god, the stuff was beautiful," Donovan said. "What was left went very quickly."

But ultimately the rise of the European Union and the strength of the Euro versus the dollar turned buying on the continent into a losing proposition. Today, Donovan does most of her antiquing in the United States.

More than anything, Donovan learned to adapt to ever changing tastes.

Take the armoire, originally designed to accommodate wardrobes in the absence of closet space.

In the '90s, people started buying them to hide their massive tube television sets and stereo equipment, with Griffins & Gargoyles adding reinforced shelves and compartments.

"We sold so many armoires, we were the armoire king and queen," Donovan said. "Then guess what happened? Flat screen TVs."

Now she's back to adding clothing rods to armoires.

All merchandise is now 40 percent off at Griffins and Gargoyles.

The time has come to stop chasing trends and pursue her own interests, said Donovan, who lives in Ravenswood Manor.

And those interests are many. She taught herself to play the piano, has taken classes in photography and printing, and went back to school at night in 2009, earning a degree in geography from Northeastern Illinois University.

"I dove into the deep end, I was such a dedicated student," Donovan said.

"The best part was being around young people — they brought that energy," she said. "They have their whole future ahead of them ... mine's a little shorter."

After decades of having her life mapped out, Donovan is looking forward to charting a new course.

"I've had a great time," she said. "Why can't I do something else?"

This house is looking for a new home.

The Donovans paved Griffins & Gargoyles' driveway with Chicago bricks. Not one has cracked or moved so much as a millimeter over the decades, according to Kelly Donovan.

A tabletop table setting.

The second floor of Griffins & Gargoyles is like the antique-shop experience, airy and flooded with light.

A French jelly cabinet (right), called a confiturier, can store all your canning equipment.

A ship in need of a new port.

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