Photos by Joan Vos Macdonald
Zaborski’s Emporium collects the knickknacks and treasures that define the Hudson Valley’s history.
When Sandy Balla first saw the 40,000-square-foot industrial building that her husband Stan Zaborski wanted to buy, she said, “Do we really need this much space?”
“Oh, we need it,” said Zaborski. “Don’t worry. We’ll fill it.”
Twenty-five years later, the building, now known as Zaborski’s Emporium, overflows with architectural salvage, memorabilia, and odd paraphernalia, much of which relates directly to Kingston’s changing fortunes.
Zaborski grew up in Kingston during the 1950s and remembers a vibrant Wall Street, which was “wall-to-wall people on a Saturday night.” Then he witnessed the departure of IBM, urban renewal, and a time when people did not hold much hope for Kingston.
“The old city hall was left to fall down” he says. “The post office was torn down.”
His father, Stanley Sr., was a baker who faced stiff competition when supermarkets added bakeries. In other words, a career change was in order. Urban renewal offered opportunities to salvage architectural elements from buildings razed in the city’s Rondout neighborhood.
When the father-son team first opened the business, they mostly sold household items.
“We were selling used stuff to hippies and Bard College students across the river who were setting up apartments. They would come in to buy pots and pans and furniture. That progressed to antiques, then we would get house calls to go look at stuff.”
The contents of many demolished buildings — stained glass windows, ornaments, fixtures, garden decor, and fireplace surroundings — now line the emporium’s many corridors. Stan is happy to see Kingston’s most recent changes, which he experiences firsthand when new homeowners need authentic elements for renovations.
“There’s so much happening right now in Kingston [with] artists, people from Brooklyn moving up. It’s a pleasure to see the old houses being restored.”
Antiques and salvage go in and out of fashion. These days there’s little call for heavy Victorian furniture or roll-top desks.
“What was popular in antiques in the 1970s is of no interest to anyone anymore. It started going mid-century modern and it wasn’t the mid 19th century, it was the 1950s and 60s. You have to learn to change, to be flexible, to understand the market. People aren’t buying spinning wheels any more. They’re buying steampunk, they want the gauges and pipes with which to build stuff.”
The emporium holds both mundane and one-of-a-kind items. Zaborski’s biggest purchase was a white garden gazebo, which was sold before it was unloaded from the truck. The heaviest was a neon sign, which is now in the process of being altered to hang on the side of the emporium. The most expensive item was a Victorian bird cage shower featuring hundreds of water jets. It was designed to be used by men.
“It was considered unhealthy for women to take showers at that time.”
One thing the emporium never turns down is cast iron radiators.
“If a house freezes up, for example, people are looking for radiators, and new radiators are prohibitively expensive.”
It is hard to describe the average client. Customers are a mix of young and old, and include Kingston residents, out-of-town shoppers, browsers, and even production stylists for film and television. With so many goods for sale, Zaborski offers a few tips for exploring the emporium. One piece of advice is to wear warm clothes in the winter, since the building has neither heat nor air conditioning. The other is to stay focused. The emporium is vast and labyrinthian.
“If I’m taking them back to look at a railing and they stop to look at door knobs, I may have to remind them that today is not a door knob day. Sometimes they wander off and I can’t even find them.”
In 2018, Stan Zaborski entered into an official partnership with his son, Steve, who will one day take over the business.
“I’m super happy and excited,” says Steve.
Stan is pleased to pass the business on to the third generation.
“It’s wonderful that the next generation is excited about it,” says Stan. “[Steve] realized he could make a living doing it. It’s one of the few businesses that the internet is not going to kill. You can find a lot on Ebay but most people want to touch things. I think it’s going to endure beyond buggy whips.”