by Lyndsey Drooby
Just south of New York State Thruway Exit 44, smack dab between Rochester and the wine trails of the Finger Lakes, is a feast for a treasure seeker’s eyes. At 31,000-square-feet, Ontario Mall Antiques in Farmington, the largest antique mall in New York State, is a trove of trinkets, a cabinet of curiosities, a fixture filled with charming vintage furniture.
In 2018, the mall celebrated 25 years in operation – a major triumph for any small business today. It remains successful thanks to years of incredible growth and expansion. The mall is teeming with merchandise from hundreds of dealers who display their diverse senses of style. Individual niches lure customers in to enjoy, for instance, a fine mahogany bookcase, a walnut desk, or a box set of Don Russ baseball cards from the 1990s.
The seeds for the mall were planted in 1982 when owner Bill Guche and business partner Peter Kolokouris purchased a shopping plaza on Route 332 in Farmington. At the time, there were empty spaces for 15 storefronts. Their solution for filling them up was to create more businesses.
The duo started a flea market with a seven-days-a-week concept, which led them to open The Antique Shop with 12 dealers. By the end of the first month, its success resulted in another space to outfit 40 dealers. Little by little, antiques were taking over, with row upon row of locked glass cases and individual booths. By 1993, the plaza was completely full of antiques and was officially named Ontario Mall Antiques.
By 2012, Bill decided it was time to retire. He put the business in the hands of his son Matt, who packed up his family and left the finance world in Manhattan to take on his new role in Farmington. The torch-passing was seamless, and Matt has become a new friend to the mall’s dealers, vacation travelers, and frequent local visitors.
Meanwhile, Matt’s father felt the nudge to go back to work after spending his retirement lovingly tending to the property’s landscaping. In 2016, he opened a smaller branch of Ontario Mall Antiques on East Ridge Road in Irondequoit. It delights shoppers and dealers who travel between Buffalo and Rochester on their treasure hunts.
But in 2017, after battling a second bout of stomach cancer, Bill passed away. He is remembered for his army service, college education, family pride, strong business practices and lengthy conversations.
With two locations to tend, Matt is working to spread the joy of nostalgia to a younger generation. To that end, he called for a refresh of the mall’s logo, adding the tagline, “Antiques, Gifts, Furniture.” It makes clear that Ontario Mall Antiques is a destination for anyone looking to make their house a home with a one-of-a-kind piece, or for shoppers searching for a unique gift for a collector.
To date, the Farmington store has 138 open-floor spaces and 710 enclosed glass display cases. Irondequoit has just over half that amount. A stroll along any of the aisles is a real walk down memory lane – and an escape from mass-produced retail. The merchandise at both locations tells stories of work done by hand, and presents tiny details specific to historic eras, including Colonial, Victorian, and Mid-century Modern.
As the employees will tell you, the stock is constantly changing as items are purchased and dealers bring in their latest merchandise. The biggest rule of thumb for shoppers is this: don’t sit back and think about an item. Go ahead and buy it. It may not be there on the next visit!
Recent improvements to the mall include an open café area where customers can sit and enjoy their complimentary coffee – fuel for the trek to the next large wing of the complex. The exterior of the building was painted the signature shade of “OMA Blue,” and front signage that includes lighted digital sale announcements and events.
When the calendar flipped to 2019, another 25 years of selling fine pieces and old memories began.