From left, Terry and Tina Flanagan, and "Chile Bob" O'Hara. BOB LOBLAW PHOTO

Steeltown Salvage meets Bob’s Boys

Last Tuesday afternoon, Terry Flanagan was standing on the top step of a stepladder in the new display room for his business, which he owns with his wife Tina. The new room is an old room of Bob’s Boys Antiques, that distinctive menagerie that has lived in downtown Ridgeville for four years, but seems as though it has been there for four centuries. Its namesake Bob O’Hara was out on a job, and the Flanagans were alone, emptying the shop’s central room of his things and filling it with their own, the business merger nearly concluded.

“It’s a perfect combination,” said Tina of their takeover of one of O’Hara rooms.

“We’ve had our business, Steeltown Salvage, for eight years. But we’ve never had seven days a week of retail like this. Bob can sell for us when we’re away, and we can sell for him when he’s gone.”

Terry, high on the wall, his ponytail bobbing as he craned his neck back and forth, was affixing a triangular restaurant sign with a loop of wire. The rev of his power drill echoed in the enclosed space.

“That’s Mr. Risky,” said Tina, looking up at him and the looming RESTAURANT. “But the sign will look great once it’s up there and we have the neon attached and lit.”

The two plucked the piece from an old diner in Hershey, Pennsylvania on a recent collecting run.

“We like going all over this area in Canada and down south of the border,” said Terry, explaining that they specialize in finding old industrial material.

Prior to working in antiques full-time, Terry was a construction contractor and Tina a housecleaner. Both can’t imagine doing anything but trafficking antiques now.

“The things you find are just incredible—and not just the stuff, the historical buildings you take it out of, too,” said Tina. “Signs like this are some of my favourite things. We‘ve got them from the Halton Motel, the Cadillac Motel in Niagara Falls. All over. People like to buy them, too.”

The couple, who currently sell online and from their home in Welland, have stocked a lot of restaurants with vintage furniture and paraphernalia.

“We do a lot of work with the film industry too. Especially in Hamilton—the TV show ‘Umbrella Academy.’ Now with this place, with all of the other stuff, we can basically be a prop house,” said Tina.

Terry, down from his perch, looked up happily at his work.

“Extreme makeover,” he said. “Bob Edition.”

The Flanagans have known O’Hara for six years, and have frequently bought and sold from him over that time.

“We know how Bob works,” they both agreed. “We know his quirks, we know how he does business. It shouldn’t be anything really new working with him this closely.”

The Flanagans’ presence is unlikely to hurt O’Hara’s customer base. Already a busy corner, Steeltown Salvage boasts some 4000 followers on Instagram, advertising terrain O’Hara hasn’t quite ventured into.

All three share a common vision of the corner as a more organized place. Up until now, the asphalt in front of the shop has mostly been carpeted in things arranged in no identifiable pattern, haphazardly protected from the elements by tarps.

“There’s one canopy up already, and there’ll be another one. This way it’s more permanent, and looks less disorganized than with tarps all over,” said Terry.

Done with the restaurant sign, he returned to the wall with his drill and began installing a mannequin animal head.

“Is that a deer?” asked an onlooker.

“An elk,” responded Terry.

Just then, O’Hara pulled up at the warehouse door in his van, the back visibly loaded with objets d’salvage.

“Ah, it’s looking good,” he said, admiring the space emptied of his things. “I’m really excited for this. It’s good for them and it’s good for me. I like to go south in the winter, and now Terry and Tina can watch the store.”

He walked through the Flanagans’ room and into the shop’s main room, looking behind the counter. He peered at the ledger book.

“They didn’t sell anything today? Weird day. All these people, nothing sold,” he said, more bemused than annoyed.

“Oh no, we sold some things,” said Tina, who had followed him into the room. “I put it in the book.”

“No you didn’t,” insisted O’Hara. Tina looked.

“I did,” she said, “I just forgot to put a new date.”

O’Hara smiled and nodded and scratched in the day’s date in his neat script. He turned to the counter, where a transparent picture holder, newly arrived, stood in front of him.

“What am I going to put in this,” he mused.

“A big picture of Bob,” offered Tina.

“A big picture of Bob is the last thing I need,” said O’Hara. “I’d never sell it then.”

He pushed the plastic absent-mindedly, looking past the watch display out the window.

O’Hara, who is 75, moved into the shop in 2015. Last year he expanded into the warehouse next door. This week he was partaking in a business merger. Establish, expand, merge.

“What’s next?” asked a visitor.

“My death!” O’Hara said, grinning.

He returned to work, having spoken words that reverberated in his now-shared domain, but which worried his mind not at all.