ESSEX, Mass. — The White Elephant shop is for sale, but while it’s for sale, business is still, to quote its slogan, “picking up,” says Jean Grobe, who, along with her husband Rick has owned the 60-year-old iconic Essex antiques landmark since 1985.
It’s been a long, fun trip, but it’s time for other kinds of trips, says Grobe, including the one the couple — now both in their 60s — took to Florida this past month after putting the shop in the capable hands of Churchill Properties’ real estate marketer Chris Bernier.
Now returned from those sunny climes, the Grobes — who since the 1997 departure of their original partners, Tom and Kay Ellis, have been sole proprietors of the shop — are selling, says Jean Grobe, because it’s just plain “time for a change.”
“My husband is going to be 68 next month,” she says, by way of settling the issue of why the couple, under whose aegis business at the White Elephant has never been less than booming, would want to sell.
She knows, says Grobe, that for the right kind of buyer for the big old barn on Main Street (Route 133), with its picture perfect location, is a New England dream. But that doesn’t mean it will sell fast. “It’s a real niche kind of business, but for people who’ve always dreamed of having a shop like this, in a locale like this, it’s perfect.”
Grobe, who notes that “we get 10,000 to 14,000 cars passing here a day,” says the couple have already had interested potential buyers, including “a local restaurant thinking of turning it into a brew pub.” The shop, which also has a retail food license, would be perfect, she thinks, “for young kids, who are so creative.”
The couple were young and creative themselves, as were Tom and Kay Ellis, when they bought the 4,155 square foot property. Rick Grobe himself was an art major who brought “a great eye” to the business, says his wife. “Every single movie that’s ever shot on Cape Ann has bought props here,” she says. That would include “Manchester by the Sea,” last year’s Oscar winner for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, loaded as it was with authentically local interiors.
Authentic Cape Ann is in fact exactly how best to describe the White Elephant’s typical range of inventory. Though the shop “mixes some new” with the old — especially in the spring, when it sells lots of gardening accessories — most of its ever changing inventory comes straight out of the attics, trunks, basements, barns and estates of Cape Ann. “Rick is always on hunt,” says Grobe. “He can liquidate whole estates, and he’s got that great eye, so we never have trouble selling stuff.”
Or buying stuff. Founded on the principal that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” the shop, says Grobe, “is a magnet” for sellers with single and small items, too. These — old, framed period pictures and memorabilia, books and collectibles — are often exactly the sort of thing the average shopper, particularly tourists, look to pick up, and what the shop is crammed to the gills with.
The couple regarded the selling of The White Elephant outlet shop on John Wise Avenue one mile north of the mother shop — which they describe as “like a year round yard sale” — as a first step toward down-sizing their involvement with their 33-year-old retail venture, but not with Essex retail. Long active in the Essex Merchant Group, Jean Grobe, a North Shore native, helped launch many of the tourism initiatives that helped win Essex — with its dozens of picturesque shops — national recognition as “antiques capital of America”
“You know,” she says, “it’s interesting, people even love coming here in winter. When the sun shines, Essex is in business.” And at The White Elephant, despite that “For Sale” sign, it’s business as usual.
Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, http://www.salemnews.com