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Business of the Week: Bob and Judi's Coolectibles

Judi and Bob Pheiffer

This article originally appeared on Patch.

There are some businesses that simply couldn't exist in Manhattan. Bob and Judi's Coolectibles, the quirky vintage housewares shop in business since 1997 on Fifth Avenue between Union and President, is a perfect example.

"We would need to sell high-end antiques if we were going to exist in Manhattan," said Judi Pheiffer, who runs the shop with her husband Bob. "Rents are just too high there. We sell things that are affordable, and much more useful, anyway."

It's easy to get lost in the sheer selection of merchandise available at Bob and Judi's, collected over the years from flea markets, estate sales, and generous folks who move away and don't want to throw valuable items out. Retro glassware, jewelry, old neighborhood photos, salt and pepper shakers, toys, and other household items create a time capsule that frequently sucks in passersby out for a stroll as well as young couples looking for houseware and those looking for the perfect gift but have been unable to find it elsewhere.

Vintage Salt and Pepper Shakers

"I met Bob when I was 18 and he was 28," said Judi. "We've lived in Park Slope for 32 years, and our first business was selling airbrushed clothes wholesale and at flea markets." After a cancer scare in 1996, Judi decided to no longer work with chemicals, so they added vintage bric-a-brac to the merchandise. Eventually the clothes were phased out entirely, they rented out a former exterminator shop (and before that, a beloved bar and grill), and Bob and Judi's was born.

The merchandise quickly began to add up, especially after acquiring a couple large estates. "When we first opened, the whole middle of the room was wide open," said Judi. "I had this vision of keeping it sparse and very well-curated. That lasted about six months."

In the 90s, the neighborhood couldn't have been more different. "Nobody was out walking on Fifth Avenue back then, and sometimes we'd bring in maybe twenty dollars a day" explained Judi. "Buildings were abandoned, and there was nothing to do and see on Fifth. People would come in off the streets, trying to sell things, and we had to chain up the furniture when we'd display it out front. We don't have to worry about that anymore."

They certainly don't. Fifth Avenue has once again become one of Brooklyn's prime retail strips, and the Pheiffers have dedicated themselves to being a true part of the community. Not only are they active members of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and donors to many local schools and organizations, they realize how valuable the store itself is to the neighborhood.

"We're essentially a recycling business," said Judi. "We're saving things from the landfill. People move, and they tell me that they don't care what happens, they just want their stuff to have a life again."

"Things were better made back then anyway," she continued. "They've held up for a hundred years, why shouldn't they continue to be useful for a hundred more?"

Bob and Judi's Coolectibles, 217 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-638-5770.

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