Faces in the Crowd: Doug Johnson

August 9, 2018

By Gene Bodnar

I contacted the Clare Antique Mall via their Facebook site, asking for an interview with the owner.  Doug Johnson responded in the affirmative, setting up the interview for a Tuesday, which is the only day of the week that the mall is closed.  Located at 1050 N. McEwan Street in Clare, it is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on all other days of the week, including Sunday.

Doug Johnson in the Clare Antique Mall.

Doug Johnson in the Clare Antique Mall.

Doug Johnson was born in Detroit in 1950.  Throughout his school years, he attended the Roseville public school system, graduating in 1967.

In 1968, Doug married Debbie, which means they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year.  They have a son Rob, a daughter-in-law Angie, and a daughter Cyndi.  Doug and Debbie also have three grandsons:  Dan 28, Ryan 25, and Michael 22.  They also have one great granddaughter, Tessa who is 3.

Early in his working career, Doug worked at a Chrysler stamping factory for a couple of years.  Leaving that job, he began working at the Crown Division in Sterling Heights, a company that dealt in plastics, truck conversions, and in building tractor cabs for the Ford Motor Company.  Working as a supervisor, he was offered the position of Plant Manager.  He worked there for 12 years.

In the early 1980s, the tractor operation moved to England, thus closing its doors in the states.

Doug’s next job was Plant Manager at Riverside International located in Port Huron, a company that dealt in automotive plastics.  Doug held this job for about five years.

Next, he worked as Plant Manager for Guelph Tool, an automobile stamping and assembly plant located in Warren, with its headquarters in Canada.  This plant was a non-union employer, so when the union tried to infiltrate the plant, this part of the operation simply closed its doors.  Still working for the same company, Doug became its Accounts Manager for sales, covering customers in three states:  Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In 2012, Doug and Debbie bought a home in Lake.  Debbie’s mom lived in Harrison and their son lived in Lake, so they were near family.  For the first couple of years, they only spent weekends at their new home.  They moved here full-time in 2015.  Doug’s goal was to retire at age 66, but as Doug says, he was “getting antsy” about retiring, so he finally decided to retire at age 64, two years earlier than the expected goal.

Doug’s hobby has always been antiques.  In fact, for at least 20 years when he lived down-state, he rented booths to sell antiques at every opportunity that presented itself.  He learned about the value of antiques from many different sources, including reading a lot about the subject, doing a lot of personal research, and learning from others.  Doug says it’s the kind of occupation where you are always doing research and learning something new in a never-ending process.

People buy antiques and collectibles for a variety of reasons.  Collecting is a hobby for some people; others decorate their home with antiques; still others enjoy the “hunt and chase” of finding a specific item.  Many antique buyers specialize in a certain genre, such as rare books or Coke signs.

Clare Antique Mall

Clare Antique Mall

Doug and Debbie decided to open an antique mall, especially when they learned that the building they currently occupy was up for lease.  Leasing the place for 3 years, Doug said the place was in no shape to open the way it was, an empty shell that needed work.  So he, Debbie, their children, and their brother-in-law, Dave, spent a month or so in cleaning the place up, re-painting it throughout, setting up partitions with wide aisles between them, making use of pegboard so items could be easily displayed, and making neatness a big priority.

Doug explained that the difference between a store and a mall.  As a store, the owner is 100% responsible for owning and selling everything in the store, plus all of its expenses, including heat and electricity.  On the other hand, in a mall, vendors rent a space from him, and he gets a small percentage on their sales.

The day before the Clare Antique Mall opened on September 1, 2015, Mayor Pat Humphrey came by to welcome them and congratulate them on the new store.  Doug mentioned the large, heavy sign that had not yet been put up outside the building, too heavy for one or two individuals to handle.  The mayor promptly got a group of individuals together and got the sign installed the same day.

One of Doug’s biggest fears on opening was that they would not have a full facility.  That fear has gone completely by the wayside.  Today, the facility is full, with 35 booths represented by 29 dealers, most of whom are local but a few are from down-state.  Since opening, even the back area of the mall, which was once a garage area, has been expanded for more customers.  The mall is so full that Doug has a waiting list for dealers.  Furthermore, not a day goes by where someone doesn’t drop by to sell some kind of antique to his mall.

The store is filled with every imaginable kind of antique, collectible, and hand-made treasure.  Each vendor has its own sign, with each sign made by Rob, such as Beaver’s Cove, Country Living, Pickin’ ‘n’ Grinnin’, or C. R. Stuff.  Here, you can find vintage quilts, jewelry made from antique silver spoons, tools just for guys, carnival glass, antique furniture, antique coffee urns, and so much more.  Many of their customers are Amish, folks especially interested in old tools.  Their website on Facebook displays many photos of their items.

For the past three years (all the time they’ve been opened), the Clare Antique Mall has been voted the Best Antique Store in the area.

Doug explained that they were closed only on Tuesdays, but he frequently remained busy on those days, going to local homes who were selling antiques.  On many occasions, he also did this on other days after working hours.

Unfortunately, Doug and Debbie will not be renewing their lease as of September 1, 2018.  The mall will remain open, however, with new owners, and it will remain the same delightful store that it is today, only with new faces.

Doug and Debbie will start a new business called Johnson Estate Sales, which will be operated from their home.  Of course, in an estate sale, a substantial portion of the items owned by a person who is recently deceased or who must dispose of their personal property to facilitate a move is offered for sale or at auction.  Doug will shortly be acquiring a certificate from the Asheford Institute of Antiques, which will make him an accredited appraiser of antiques and collectibles.  He thoroughly enjoys helping people appreciate antiques, and he devotes his efforts to preserving those items.

Doug wants everyone to know that he is selling his business because he doesn’t wish to renew another 3-year lease – “that’s too long,” he says.  The business is too demanding for another 3-year stint.  He says that the local businesses have all been supportive, that he has received amazing cooperation for all members of the community, and that he has made a lot of friends during the past three years, which includes dealers as well as customers.  In fact, while I was conducting this interview, one of Doug’s customers even sent him a photo of their new-born child.
Of course, Doug and Debbie will be missed by their many customers and dealers.  Since they will only be present at the mall for a few more weeks, you might stop by, enjoy browsing their fascinating items, perhaps make a purchase, and wish them well in their new endeavor.

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