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Owners of iconic downtown antique store call it a day

Owning an antique store is not what Steve Chitovas imagined. Before he and partner Ron Lawton opened Grace Brothers Antiques in 1997, Chitovas thought it would be a much simpler life.
Co-owner Steve Chitovas outside Grace Brothers Antiques.Cathy Dobson
Co-owner Steve Chitovas outside Grace Brothers Antiques. Cathy Dobson

Owning an antique store is not what Steve Chitovas imagined.

Before he and partner Ron Lawton opened Grace Brothers Antiques in 1997, Chitovas thought it would be a much simpler life.

“I’d always wanted an antique store because every time I went into one the owner was sitting there reading a book,” he said.

“I can tell you that in 23 years that never happened.”

The buying, the pricing, the selling, and the lugging of large furniture pieces and heavy boxes of china kept him on his feet.

But it’s been a great time, said Chitovas who has sold the Grace Brothers’ building and will close up shop in a few months.

“I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve met a lot of customers who became friends and we were fortunate to have good employees.

“The research really made it interesting too,” he said. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert but with experience, I gained knowledge.”

He also loved the thrill of finding antique treasures, like the time an unopened box lot at a London, Ont. auction contained china from Buckingham Palace.

“When we started, we were going to several live auctions every week. I found the buying side is the fun part of the business.

“Ron is a much better salesman than me.”

Over the past three to five years the business has changed dramatically with customers increasingly looking to the Internet for antiques.

“We adapted by starting our eBay store,” said Chitovas.  Even after the shop closes he will continue to operate the online store ( where more than 2,000 items are currently listed.

The decision to close and sell the building at 156 Front St. North had nothing to do with sales – Chitovas says the store has always done well.  It’s more to do with freeing up his time.  Lawton has taken a smaller role in recent years and at 58, Chitovas is ready to do other things.

Besides, Sean Barlow, owner of Sideways Classic Grill next door, bought the Grace Brothers’ building and takes possession in September.

Chitovas and Lawton hope to sell most of their inventory by the end of May. The sales began in October.  It’s a huge endeavor but slowly the three storeys crammed with antiques are emptying out.

“You close a restaurant, that’s easy,” joked Chitovas.  “You just shut the doors and walk away, but a retail store has all this stuff.”

He and Lawton say they’re grateful to the customers and merchants in Sarnia’s downtown and will miss them.

Both partners played a part in downtown’s revitalization as founding members of First Fridays and board members at the Imperial Theatre just paces from the store. Lawton was executive director for a time.

As they pack their boxes and hold their sales, they want to contribute to the theatre’s ongoing capital campaign by matching donations up to a total of $46,000.  That’s $1,000 from each of them for the past 23 years.

“The theatre opened around the time we did and both Ron and I love live theatre and see the benefits the theatre brings to downtown and the city,” said Chitovas.

“So in a sense, this is payback.”

He reflects on all the interesting people who came into Grace Brothers over the years while performing at the Imperial.

“I sold furniture to one of the Rankin sisters,” said Chitovas.  “We had Rick Mercer in the store, Leona Boyd and the guys from Sloan.

“It’s good to leave on our own terms,” he said.  “But we will really miss it, I’m sure.”

Grace Brothers Antiques continues to open Saturdays only from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., likely until May.

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