Americana By the Seashore a ‘Destination’ for 35 Years

By MARIA SCANDALE | Aug 08, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

In the 35th year of Americana By the Seashore in Barnegat Light, it’s more than ever “your source for the unusual.” That never gets old.

“Americana” is the name for good reason, but the shop of antiques, housewares, jewelry and art also holds treasure from a few other parts of the world. Notable is the ancient coin jewelry set in gold and precious stones, a trademark of the store since the beginning.

“They have wonderful stories – they’re all hand-struck and they’re quite beautiful,” pointed out store owner Marge Rapp. “This is Alexander the Great, which is rare, and this is a rabbit expressing for the Olympics in Greece 2,000 years ago.”

“Americana” does encompass another focal point, the antique carousel horses originally ridden at Coney Island. Maker Charles I.D. Looff was a famed master carver and builder of carousels.

More displays and collections found nowhere else in the area make the store a destination.

Behind glass in wooden cabinets, the array of 19th-century oyster plates for sale is an impressive example. Oyster plates served the succulent but craggy-looking mollusks in classy Park Avenue style. That is where some of the collection came from: Rapp is a veteran buyer of treasures, having learned from experts in the field, while she and her late husband were collectors themselves.

An entire room of the store, which is elevated above the street at 604 Broadway, is dedicated to colorful MacKenzie-Childs enamelware and furniture. Rapp first saw the luxury display at Bergdorf Goodman, and before long she met company owners. Americana By the Seashore is the only dealer within many miles.

Of the patterns in the MacKenzie-Childs line, the store stocks “just about anything they carry,” and the company has accommodated special orders quickly, such as when a homeowner needed certain pieces for a party. “We’re old customers, and we have a good relationship with them.”

“I think people like this store because it’s kind of eclectic,” Rapp proposed.

Some of the unique items are admittedly hard to part with, but “you see the excitement of someone finding something for a perfect spot, the husband and wife agree, you’re wishing them all the best, and you kind of get over it.”

As higher-end as some of its pieces are, the store surprises with soft sides to its philosophy. Staff members don’t pressure customers with a hard sell. If they don’t immediately come forward with “can I help you?” that's intentional so customers can take their time, said the owner.

Explained Rapp, “They say hello when people come in, but you’re allowed to browse, truly.” She added, “If somebody needs something, they really try to help them. I have the best staff in the world; some of them have been with me for over 20 years, and one comes from Toms River. The dedication is amazing, but it’s a nice place to work.”

The shop carries fine jewelry in 18-karat and 14-karat gold, as well as Italian Eva Nueva necklaces finely beaded in gemstones. Yet one addition that developed more recently is fashion jewelry in the $20 to $45 range that is desired “copies” of designer pieces. Copies of Tiffany, for example, sell well.

“These are beautiful pieces that in the real world are in the thousands, and yet it’s very hard to tell they’re not real. And so many of our customers travel, and they’re on cruises and they leave their good jewelry home. They come in here every year and say, ‘You know, I get more compliments on your jewelry than my own.’”

In the same range are house gifts around $50.

“What has changed is when we started out, we only had antiques and antique coins as jewelry, and we started to provide more and more affordable gifts and mix it up more,” said Rapp. “We noticed that people want to bring a gift and they want something that is under $50, and we focused on those prices to give people some options.”

Relationships with customers, continuous from year to year, are a satisfying aspect of the store’s success story.

“I have customers who have been coming in for 25 years – we know their children, we knew their husbands; it’s like a big family reunion.” Rapp smiled, making a warm comparison to the 1960s television show “Art Linkletter’s House Party.”

“Some days it feels that way. People come in and sometimes they’ve been ill over the winter or they’ve been traveling to great places, and we hear a lot of stories. We love the customers; the thing when I retire that I will miss the most is the relationships I have with customers.”

Donations to choice causes have been another constant. This Thursday, Aug. 8, through the weekend is one of the shop’s promotions for several animal rescue groups and for organizations such as Soldier’s Best Friend that provide therapy dogs for military service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We donate a percentage of our sales when we have these special promotions,” said Rapp, who is appreciative of the caring displayed right there in Barnegat Light by Friends of the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter.

Did she say “retire”? Yes, “it’s time to start looking at retiring,” but the winter resident of Naples, Fla., could linger to help the right buyer transition in.

“I have advertised. I will miss it terribly, but I know that while you have your health is a good time; there’s a lot of inventory here, a lot of information to give a prospective buyer. They would come in and have business right away; we’re a destination store.”

Even though she still thoroughly enjoys it, such a business involves “a lot of work,” Rapp shared.

“In order to keep the business active, I do attend auctions and sales, the preliminary to the auction, and house calls,” she listed. “And I do like to go to Italy and buy jewelry there; they’re just the best at what they do. And then keeping up with all the new things – what’s new with Tiffany and Hermes, what new pieces would people like as copies, so it’s a very active and engaging business.”

A Closer Look

At Specialties

The husband-and-wife owners started collecting for the store two years before they built the stately building that houses it. It opened in 1985. Her late husband, Roy Rapp, was an interested supporter every day, even though he loved fishing so much that he got a captain’s license and fished offshore from Myers’ marina in town. That in turn worked well to give his wife the time to operate the shop. They had decorated their home in Cherry Hill with American antiques, and they bought a house in Barnegat Light.

His profession was in the insurance business in Philadelphia, while she was an assistant to a well-known antiques dealer who sourced furniture and quilts for many collectors. She also worked for the Barnes Foundation art institution for five years. For her own business later, when Rapp found a product line or a collectible that she believed in, it was featured in the store in a big way.

Opening a cabinet of the collection of 19th-century oyster plates, Rapp lifted out a special one made about 1860 by Minton of Staffordshire, England.

“It’s called the Holy Grail of oyster plates. Nobody has one; there are very few in mint condition,” she said, tones of affection along with pride in the object. “It holds 27 oysters and it turns.”

Authors of one of the two main books written about oyster plates used Americana By the Seashore as a source of examples to photograph. Most were made by Minton or Limoges, but there was a German porcelain factory, Royal KPM, as well as an American company in Brooklyn, Union Porcelain Works. Railroad companies served on a heavier version than the more fine home specimens.

“In the 1880s if you were well off, you went to a jeweler and ordered your dishes, and you ordered a set of 24 or 36 oyster plates,” Rapp instructed. “The reason why you’re seeing these plates that are 150 years old or so, in mint condition, was that people bought a lot of them, so they had extra.”

The store holds a 6-foot-tall Japanese palace vase in mint condition, obtained from a retiring art dealer. Works by acclaimed carvers, original paintings of nautical scenes, and much more catch the eye of men as well as women in the store.

Interestingly, the trade in quilts diminished after about the first five years in the shop when “the Chinese came in and copied the quilts beautifully,” Rapp said. “The ones coming from China were made for queen- and king-sized beds and the old ones hardly would fit. That market fell out. Ralph Lauren would put them at the end of a bed as a decorative thing.”

Speaking of decorative, the MacKenzie-Childs pieces are a kaleidoscope of patterns, yet reliable and collectible.

“I like the whimsy of it. It's just a great expression of color, design, pattern; they were able to put things together that no one else did,” Rapp noted.

Describing her first encounter with the shop on Madison Avenue, she said, “It had things all over the ceiling, and lights, and it looked like a Harry Potter expression of housewares. When you walked in, there was a big cage with unusual birds I had never seen. Then you went upstairs and if you went to have lunch, the menus would come down from the ceiling. It was a total fantasy. I fell in love with it.”

The tableware displayed on furniture in her own store is pretty fantastical in itself. “This is a lot to take in,” Rapp acknowledged. “Look at the teapots; the teapot is a great form anyway, and for the stove area, which is kind of a dark area, this is like a jewel. It is $140, but it’s something that you look at every day. I love mine, and I enjoy it.”

She has enjoyed the past 35 years as well. “It has been fun from the first time we designed the preliminary plans and decided how the shop should look. It’s been a blast.”

This landmark year also marks the retirement of the magazine Discover Barnegat Light, which Rapp co-founded in 2009 with Pam Larson and whose committee included Kris Panacek and Cricket Luker. The team produced the successful advertising and information book themselves, and the workload was heavy.

Americana By the Seashore is open in spring, summer and fall. However, shipping is available all year, and they can be reached all year via email, circa1@comcast.net, or by phone at 609-494-0656. The website is americanabytheseashore.com.

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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