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Shuttered Landmark Antiques in Geneva finally selling off remaining items

Murray Richards owner Yates building 123 W State Street is selling off contents his wife's former store an upcoming auctiafter

Murray Richards, owner of the Yates building at 123 W State Street, is selling off the contents of his wife's former store in an upcoming auction, after which, the building itself will be sold. Murray's wife, Barbara, closed the store in 1985 and it has never reopened. | Michele du Vair~For Sun-Times Media

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At a Glance

What: Landmark Antiques Auction

Where: 123 W. State St., Geneva (in the middle of First and Second streets)

When: Sale starts at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Call: Contact Reed’s General Merchandise at 630-365-2753

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Updated: March 20, 2012 8:11AM

For years people would pass the cluttered storefront of the historic Yates building — in the middle of First and Second streets — and wonder why the Landmark Antiques store was never open. This was prime commercial real estate in the heart of downtown Geneva. Sometimes folks would notice a cat, sunning itself in the window. Other times they would see a light in the back room.

And they would leave notes. “Call me,” they would write. “I want to buy this plate or that clock. And oh, by the way, what is going on with your store?”

But people would rarely get a call back. That’s because beginning in about 1985, co-owner Barbara Richards grew weary of the family business. One day she simply locked the doors, with all the merchandise inside, and walked away from the shop for good.

“We didn’t exactly close it,” said her husband, Murray Richards, now 91 and living in Batavia. “She just never opened it.”

And that’s the way it remained from 1985 through 2011, chock full of stuff, all of it for sale, but never the opportunity to buy it.

“You don’t know what full is,” laughed the Richards’ youngest son John, now living in Woodstock. “It wasn’t hoarders full, but it was close.”

Recently area residents have had the chance to peek inside the old shop during a series of weekend sales. Reed’s General Merchandise in St. Charles will host a closeout auction of the store’s remaining items beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Doors open at 5 p.m. Beyond that, the building itself will be up for sale, once the contents are sold off.

It might be a while. Then again, it took a while to gather that much stuff. Barbara, who passed away in 2007, and Murray Richards bought the riverstone structure in 1971 to give Barbara a chance to fulfill her dream of owning an antiques store. Murray, then 50, had done his share of traversing the nation as a statistician helping organizations break into the computer age. In 1971, he took a job in Chicago with the Federal Reserve to help computerize their auditing systems.

Yet Murray disliked the urban lifestyle, so he jumped at the chance to buy a historic building in the quaint, rural town of Geneva. It even had an existing antique shop downstairs and living quarters upstairs. Sort of.

“The upstairs was unfit for human habitation,” Murray said. “If we didn’t fix it, the (whole building) was going to be condemned.”

Murray hired an architect to install concrete pillars and beams to support the second floor. He did away with the birds nests and installed a floor where there was none. Then he set to work on the exterior. The outside was in desperate need of tuck-pointing, so he wrote to the Library of Congress for the exact recipe for the concrete mix used in 1846.

“You could still buy it, but it came in box car loads,” he laughed.

In 1972, Murray, Barbara and John, then a junior in high school, moved in upstairs, and put their own stamp on the antique store they had purchased from Blanche Watson. On the weekends, Barbara would hit auctions and garage or barn sales in a three-state area.

“She was very well-educated in antiques,” Murray said. “She would buy books and catalogs and study them thoroughly.”

Their building was one of the most historic structures in the Fox Valley, built 14 years before the start of the Civil War. According to the Geneva History Center, the building’s namesake, Bartholomew C. Yates bought and occupied the building in 1850, after he was elected sheriff of Kane County. Changes were made to the roof, the building was divided upstairs as well as down and windows were added to the first floor, though Jessica McTague, curator of Collections and Exhibitions for the Geneva History Center said no one knows exactly when many of these changes were made.

The uses of the building are more clear, according to documents. A school is said to have met on the second floor while a blacksmith below. The building was also used as a hardware store, drug store, and beginning in about 1950, as an antiques store.

“With Geneva being founded in 1835, it’s got to be one of the oldest commercial buildings in town,” McTague said. “We’re just fortunate that in Geneva, there were people that did a lot to preserve the older buildings. It gives us a much more rich history.”

Murray admits he ran out of gas on his half of the historic Yates building and hasn’t done much since his original overhaul.

In time, officials began to nag him about painting the letters or repairing the facade. It didn’t help when the shop turned into a sitting room for the cat and a storage unit for Barbara’s collections.

“The city gave us grief all the time,” Murray said with a devilish grin. “Eventually, they just gave up on us.”

Barbara and Murray lived upstairs until her death in 2007. He stayed until last fall, working at his own pace to reduce the goods they had acquired over a lifetime. Last year, the family hired Reed’s General Merchandise to help sell off her antiques and collectibles. And with the sale of the building looming beyond that, the Richards’ long-time connection to the beloved building will soon be a lengthy addition to the history books.

“It’s dirty,” Murray said, “but it’s stood the test of time nicely.”

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