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Beloved Seattle Antique Store Closes Due To Coronavirus Crisis


Small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic's disruption of American lives and habits. Researchers say more than 100,000 have shut down permanently across the U.S. And as Ravenna Koenig reports, the closing of a beloved art and antiques shop in Seattle is both an economic hit to the community and an emotional one.

RAVENNA KOENIG, BYLINE: The owner of the shop called Curtis Steiner is Curtis Steiner, and the fabric he used to make his coronavirus mask says a lot about him and his store.

CURTIS STEINER: This is a 19th century hat ribbon, silk, very tight weave.

KOENIG: He's the type of person who has that kind of material lying around.

STEINER: It's always nice to have a ribbon to wear.

KOENIG: Steiner is a sculptor, painter, jewelry maker and a seller of art and antiques. And his shop has the feel of a museum, a place you could find an antique glasses case made from shark skin, intricate paper sculptures by a local artist and handmade greeting cards. And people don't always have to come to the shop for these finds. Sometimes the shop comes to them.

STEINER: Good morning.

KOENIG: At Steiner's regular coffee spot just down the street from the store, the barista thanks him for an item he brought her - a championship award from a 1950s horse competition.

STEINER: Alissa, our barista, is a horse fancier, so I thought, oh, she's a perfect recipient for this eccentric thing.

KOENIG: For two decades, Steiner has sold these beautiful and unique objects, and that drew a following to the shop - people like artist Lisa Kinoshita.

LISA KINOSHITA: It was just so unusual. It'd be like walking down the street and finding a 15th century manuscript laying on the sidewalk.

KOENIG: She especially loves his delicate necklaces, strung with beads sometimes as small as grains of sugar.

KINOSHITA: They look like if you held it in your hand and you sneezed, the whole thing would explode just because it was so fine.

KOENIG: The object of attraction was an antique ivory ruler for another patron, art school executive Stefano Catalani, who gave it to his partner, an architect.

STEFANO CATALANI: That's, for me, what his store was - a conduit to a great experience of sharing love with someone you care about by simply giving these gifts.

KOENIG: But now Steiner's shop is closing. Seattle's nonessential businesses were shut down this spring. And during that time, as Steiner kept paying rent without revenue, he asked himself if he wanted to keep the store going during a global pandemic.

STEINER: Is it worth the fight? - which it would be a huge fight to keep this open.

KOENIG: Ultimately, the answer was no. After all these years, he says his store felt like a crossword puzzle he'd solved. That, combined with the uphill financial battle he was facing, made him decide it was time to move on. But while he may be ready to move on, not all the Seattleites who love his store are. It's a big loss. And it's not the only one.

MARIA RUANO: Like all the other shops closing - and there's a lot of them - it feels like the personality of the city is dissolving away.

KOENIG: That's Maria Ruano, who's a fan of the shop and owns a tile manufacturing company nearby. She says it's been hard to watch beloved businesses struggle to stay afloat.

RUANO: From the friend who shut down her skin care salon to the coffee shop that is going to not make it anymore that's been there since the mid-'80s - you know, and I don't want to talk about this because it's going to make me cry.

KOENIG: At least with Steiner's store, there's something of it that remains with every person who took a piece of it home.

For NPR News, I'm Ravenna Koenig in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE SONG, "MONDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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