Like many antique dealers, Michael Garrotto started out as a collector. After he developed a weakness for Western paraphernalia and old tools, his Bay Area home grew so full of antiques that, 15 years ago, his wife put her foot down.
“We had just gotten married and she wanted to know if we’d have room to live there,” he reminisced.
Garrotto, who is retired from TRW Inc., put on his first antique show that year, which turned a tidy profit. Encouraged, he and his new wife, Mary Kay, rented seven spaces in an antique store in San Carlos.
When the Garrottos moved to Atascadero in 2002, they became dealers at Paso Robles’ Great American Antiques, a North County mainstay since 1987. After two years, they arranged to buy the store.
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Great American Antiques now showcases the wares of 32 vendors, many of whom have been selling there for more than two decades. The labyrinth of rooms and alcoves takes some time to explore. Each space offers a sampling of each vendor’s passion, be it vintage clocks, carnival glass, old gas pumps or 1970s action figures.
The furniture scattered throughout the two-level building is mostly American, dating predominantly from between the 1920s and the 1950s. There are the customary vintage oak dressers, dining sets and accent tables. But a recent visit also turned up an antique icebox, a 1950s Western- style Wagon Wheel leather couch and a circa- 1860 Amish rope bed.
There are always plenty of items for the garden, such as old iron trellises, vintage pottery and everyday items that can double as garden art, including antique tools, Western paraphernalia and old metal wheels.
Garrotto recommends keeping an open mind and imagining creative ways to incorporate collectibles into your home. Vintage bread boxes and milk cans make for great storage. Old copper and iron cookware could combine with vintage kitchen items to decorate a kitchen wall or soffit. Smaller artifacts, such as old tools, toys or beauty gadgets, could be mounted in a shadow box as three-dimensional wall art. A renovated vintage Corona dispenser would make a fun conversation piece in a game room (the vendor guarantees it to work).
If you don’t find what you’re looking for, Garrotto maintains a wish list that he circulates to vendors. They’ll contact you if someone has the item in their collection or spies it on a buying excursion.
After nearly 20 years, Garrotto’s own zeal for antiques hasn’t faded. He still shows many of his own pieces—and he still collects. For instance, anything with a buffalo on it goes into his private collection of more than 300 items.
“Most people who collect antiques are stuck on them,” he said, speaking from experience. “But we also enjoy them— or we wouldn’t keep doing this.”
Great American Antiques is at 1305 Spring Street in Paso Robles, phone 239-1203.