Longtime Upper St. Clair antiques dealer ready to retire
Through the magic of television, Canonsburg native son Perry Como spread the word about his hometown across the nation. Through the magic of the internet, Tri-State Antique Center has expanded the message around the world.
Co-proprietor Kathy Burch tells the story of a woman who journeyed from her home in Asia to purchase what turned out to be seven vintage micro-beaded purses, intricate pieces of handiwork that they just don’t make anymore.
“It was her 40th birthday, and her husband told her, ‘You can pick any place you want to go, and I’ll pay for your purses,’” Burch recalled. “A limousine picked her up from the airport and drove her down here. It waited three hours in the parking lot for her.”
The Upper St. Clair resident and her business partner, Edward Grzybowski, have operated Tri-State as a staple of West Pike Street since 1989. But as soon as the current inventory is gone, they are, too.
“It’s time to retire,” Burch said. “It’s been almost 40 years, and that’s long enough.”
For her, that represents the duration since she opened her first store when she was living in Los Angeles, after a friend out there introduced her to the whole concept of antique shops. She ended up buying an old foot-powered treadle sewing machine, and inside its drawer was a letter from Breezewood.
“I thought, I’m in Los Angeles, and this came from my home state!” she recalled. “I wrote to the person and found out that it had been sold in a farm sale, and the family never knew what happened to it.”
Suitably intrigued, Burch started buying sewing machines and refurbishing them, then started running her own shop. When she and her husband, Mike, moved back to the Pittsburgh area in 1983, she wanted to continue, and she had the perfect place: the building in Castle Shannon where Philip LaGambo, her grandfather, once ran a barbershop.
In his honor, she named her new concern Grandpa’s Whiskers, relocating it down Route 88 to Bethel Park in 1986. She closed it in 1990, after about a year of running that and Tri-State simultaneously.
“We had so much stuff that we ended up renting a warehouse two doors down,” she said about the West Pike Street store, “and that has the Grandpa’s Whiskers name on it.” The sign above the door features an image representing the Ford Model A that she used to park in front of the store in Bethel Park.
Business in Canonsburg really took off when the proprietors decided to invest in technology: “Burch and Grzybowski spent $2,600 on a computer and designed their own Web site,” a 1996 USA Today article reported.
The newspaper had been seeking a certain type of story, and Tri-State fit the bill.
“It was my husband’s idea to send it in,” Burch explained. “He said, ‘They’re looking for businesses that are having success on the internet.’”
And she was happy to report an increase in monthly sales of 50 percent after the operating went online.
Two decades later, Tri-State Antique Center is going the way of, well, treadle sewing machines. But customers can be reassured that Burch and Grzybowski will continue to dabble in the sale of vintage items.
“If they would like to maintain contact with us, they can get in touch,” she said, “and we’ll be happy to include them in our future endeavors.”