Hill residents looking to replace antique architectural details in upcoming restoration projects best not delay those projects too long. Finding those pieces is about to get a lot more difficult.
After 38 years in the antique business, The Brass Knob Architectural Antiques (2311 18th St. NW) will close for the final time on November 1, 2019. The business sold authentic antique architectural and salvaged decorative home details, the bulk dating between 1870 and 1940 –perfectly suited to the historical homes of Capitol Hill.
“Because it’s been 38 years, basically,” said owner Donetta George when asked about her decision to close. “Sales have been slow the last two years, but that’s not really the deciding factor.”
“It was just time.”
George opened the Brass Knob in 1981 with long-time friend Ron Allan. After eight years, she had left the travel business and was looking to move into a new career. “I was studying interior design and he was collecting stuff,” she said. “His wife told him he either had to sell it and have a store, or get rid of it.”
“We were just old friends and we were both between careers. It was not a long-term, well-thought out decision,” she said.
The decision may have been spontaneous, but the partnership lasted. Allan and George worked together for twenty years before George took over the store.
She said that even after she became the sole owner, she was never alone. “I could not do it alone.”
“There’s just too much stuff to do –and too many heavy objects,” George said. She said she benefited from the assistance of many long-term employees, including Kirk Palmatier, who has been with The Brass Knob for 30 years.
Palmatier was working at antique dealer Canal Company (1612 14th St. NW). When the store closed in the late 1980s, the owner, Jeff Yudin, took George out for lunch and told her she should hire Palmatier. George said she knew Palmatier from his visits to the shop as he restored his own home.
Palmatier remembers that rising rent played a role in the closure of Canal Company, but that isn’t a factor in the decision to close the Brass Knob, due to George’s prior investment decisions.
“I own the building. That’s the only reason we’re still here,” she said.
Over the last few decades, they’ve watched a lot of change, and not just in the area. “The whole city has changed,” Palmatier said. “Some of the buildings are the same, but it’s a whole different city.”
Change brings different customers, but also different tastes as homes change hands. “We’ve had some younger people come in,” he said. “It’s not a groundswell like it would have been say in the eighties, but it’s younger people.”
“They’re buying houses and they’re changing things, putting details back in, so we’ve seen some of that. It’s just not quite enough to keep us going.”
George says she’d like to sell everything in the store, and she means it. During their ‘End of an Era’ sale, all items are marked down at least 20 percent, and some as much as 30 or 40 percent.
“We’re hoping to sell as much as we can from the store, and we’ve sold a lot of things already,” said George.
In fact, sales have been so brisk that George is able to pull out new inventory, meaning that customers could benefit from multiple visits to the shop.
“We’re still pulling items out that we have never had out in the store, because now that we’ve sold so much we have room to put more inventory in,” she said. “We’ve had to hire more people to help close the store, which is ironic.”
She said she is especially interested in selling larger and heavier items, those it would be hard to move out.
George said that when the doors close, she’ll sell what she can to other antique dealers, and donate other items. Area non-profits Second Chance and Community Forklift, for instance, accept donations of architectural salvage.
She said that she isn’t sure what’s next for her. “Who knows? Something that does not require putting things together,” she said adding that she has no plans at the moment. “Maybe sitting and reading for a while,” she said.
While she’s looking forward to relaxing, George said she has valued her time with the business, the employees and the customers. “It’s been really a great 38 years. It’s been a lot of fun, and never boring –I don’t think many people can say that about their work.”
The end of an era means farewells, and George said they are seeing a lot of familiar faces. “A lot of old friends, a lot of previous customers have come in to say that they’re sad we’re leaving and congratulations. It’s good, and it’s encouraging,” she said.
“We’ve always glad to have the people that came in to see us and buy from us,” adds Palmatier. “If we never said it, we were.”
The Brass Knob (2311 18th St. NW) will close for the last time Nov. 1, 2019. All prices are reduced in store. All items are a final sale.
The store is open Monday (including Labor Day!) to Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and 24-hours online. Don’t forget to visit the Brass Knob during the 41st Annual Adams Morgan Day Festival, held on Sunday, Sept. 8th.