Comment: Local story in the paper today...

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Local story in the paper today...

The biggest connection to your story is possibly the fact that if you happen to wander into Ralph's and ask to buy something he will tell you it is not for sale - it is part of his collection. Anyhoo, thought I'd share:

Ralph Sternberg’s antique shop is a sight.

Phonograph horns and massive model airplanes dangle from the ceiling. Aisles are packed with breakable ceramic and porcelain, old radios, figurines, trinkets, pianos, signs, costumes, uniforms.

It might be more time-efficient to start naming items the shop doesn’t have, the most obvious being substantial walking room.

“I can’t give you the measurement, but it’s a full corner,” said Sternberg, 86, owner of Ralph’s Old Tyme Piano Co. “There’s a five-room apartment upstairs full of junk, too. I utilize every space, the ceiling and the floor.”

It’s a fairly sizable property at 1019 Main St. near downtown Green Bay, with a couple of thousand square feet stocked to the brim with treasures. It appears a bit strewn before looking closer to see how everything is meticulously organized by theme.

In the back of the store, in the middle of the chaotic collection, is Sternberg, with personality bigger than body, eager to laugh and tell stories. Like the time he sold a taxidermy bear and a bicycle to a sailor in town off of a ship.

“I held my side, because here he is riding that bicycle with that big bear strapped to his back heading back to the ship.’’

Sternberg has made a second home for himself among true valuables and scrappy ornaments. He’s ferociously dedicated, from collecting parts and continuing to do precision repair work to staying open nearly all the time.

“I’m here every day of the week, including Sundays,” he said. “I never close — only on my birthday.”

The reason for that dedication is his demeanor as much as his savvy.

“I’m a fair man, yet I’m a shrewd man,” Sternberg said. “You have to be.

“I try to be fair, but I still have to buy. I have to buy as cheap as I can buy it, and I’m gonna sell it for as much as I can get. I’m willing to wheel and deal.”

Sternberg worked for Red Owl grocery stores for most of his post-Navy life, retired at 55 and has been running his antiques store in one form or another for the past 45 years. He travels around the area to various auctions, snatching up everything from model cars to real cars.

Since starting, he has nurtured four other affiliated antiques shops in Appleton, Egg Harbor, Kewaunee and Little Chute, which are operated by his daughter, Amy.

But in recent years, it’s not as if the antiques business has been hugely lucrative. Sternberg recognizes that struggle and realizes sometimes it’s just the way things go.

“It’s drying up. The antique business is done,’’ he says frankly.

“Right now a lot of people are destitute and money’s tight, so you have to wheel and deal. People are looking for gas and cereal for their kids. That’s what they’re looking for.”

There are plenty of occasions — probably too many — when the store is full of people and he doesn’t sell a thing, he said.

“(There are) a lot of lookers. Everybody says they’re just looking,” Sternberg said. “I had a lady and man spend three hours here. They looked at everything. I was going to give them a a dust rag so they could dust everything. They didn’t buy anything.”

In the face of endless lookers and slow afternoons, however, Sternberg has no intention of stopping. He still has his sights set on a few specific items: a complete Edison phonograph collection and a high-wheel bicycle.

“I’m gonna get one someday, but I want to get a good one,” he said. “I buy the meat-and-potatoes stuff, the stuff I know is going to be around for a hundred years.”

Chalk Sternberg’s persistence up to doing something he loves.

“It’s been exciting and fun. I would do it again if I had the chance.” he said. “I’m just gonna go to the end. I hope I can live another 10 years. It’d be nice. If the old body holds out, I’ll be here.”

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