HIGH POINT — In these waning days of summer, Joe Byerly sees for himself the end of an era.
Byerly is having one final sale before he closes the antique business his father, Odell Byerly, started in 1937. When Byerly’s Antiques was on a grassy knoll overlooking Business I-85, the store drew tour buses full of shoppers looking for antiques. The store’s regal Corinthian columns were an eye-catching landmark that could easily be seen from the interstate.
But when the N.C. Department of Transportation needed the land to build Painter Boulevard, the building was demolished and the columns moved to a storage area. Byerly and his wife, Betsy, moved their business to a nondescript warehouse on Uwharrie Road in 2001. Their business hasn’t been as successful at this location because it’s hard to get to and can’t be seen from the interstate. That — combined with Byerly’s advancing age and his son’s desire to take the business in a different direction — have contributed to Byerly’s decision to close the store in mid-September. Byerly, 64, said his impending retirement isn’t as grim as he once feared.
“I’m a lucky man. The thing I feared is that a lot of men retire and they’re dead. They just don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m too energetic for that,” he said.
In his spare time, Byerly’s expertise has been called upon by insurance companies, banks and people settling estates or making donations. He’s also a Sotheby’s auction house agent. When his store closes, he will turn to the appraisal business full time. He also owns several properties and has an interest in real estate and development.
Byerly said he had planned for his 35-year-old son, David to carry on the family business. But David Byerly prefers to sell and display antiques at shows throughout the country — something Joe Byerly never wanted to do.
With Charlie, his 7-pound Yorkshire terrier, on a desk before him, Joe Byerly said the business he once was reluctant to take has been a rewarding one.
“Every day for 30 years, I’ve looked forward to going to work,” Byerly said. “You meet the most interesting people. People are always a big part of what you do and these people have become very good friends.”
Anne Maus is one such regular customer. Maus, her sister and mother are antiques enthusiasts and shop at Byerly’s twice yearly. The Salisbury residents have been customers since the mid-1980s. They like to look for pieces for Maus’ mother’s Colonial Williamsburg-style home. They’ve spent thousands of dollars and uncounted hours at Byerly’s.
“We’ve been so sad to hear they are closing after so many years of business,” Maus said.
Friday’s visit was her second this week and she plans to return a couple more times before the store closes.
In 1958, Odell Byerly built a store at the Groometown Road exit between High Point and Greensboro. In addition to the columns, it featured a balcony, 26 carved wood corbels and a massive chandelier that hung from the portico — all from the May Plantation in Alamance County. The store’s space spanned four floors and 42,000 square feet. Joe Byerly said his first memories are of times spent at his father’s store. When Odell Byerly died in 1970, Joe bought the business from his mother. He learned all he could from other antiques professionals and attended lectures and seminars to learn more.
“I surrounded myself with people who had knowledge (about the business),” he said.
When the Byerlys learned the state department of transportation needed to take their property, they protested in every way they could think of. They even circulated a “save the store” petition that was signed by 30,000 people from across the country. This year the Byerlys settled an eight-year lawsuit against the state DOT to get what they considered to be fair compensation for the property and the building they once owned. The settlement terms won’t allow them to say how much it was.
Byerly said this is the end of an era for him. “It’s been a fun run. The only regrets I have are the pieces I didn’t buy.”
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