By LESLIE COLLINS
September 19, 2012
Terry Sanchez started his antique business by selling the coat off his back. He was a hippie, a runaway, a high school dropout.
“My father said, ‘If you don’t keep your hair short and stay in school, you’ll never make anything of yourself,'” Sanchez said.
Sanchez never returned to high school, refused to cut his hair and has been thriving in the antique business for 41 years.
In 1969 at the age of 15, Sanchez ran away from home to escape his father’s strict rules and adopted the hippie lifestyle.
“I hitchhiked for a couple of years all over the country and to Canada with literally nothing except the clothes on my back,” he said.
Adamantly against the Vietnam War, he attended peace rallies and found shelter under bridges and in cars. One thing he never did was steal to survive, he said.
Two years of homelessness took a toll and Sanchez was ready for a change. He wanted a steady meal.
“Needless to say, things just fell into place. This business chose me,” he said.
As Sanchez talked, hard rock music played in the background at his latest store at 901 Tracy Ave., Weird Stuff Antiques, and he paused to answer his cell phone. His bluetooth earpiece has become another accessory, a constant companion he uses to answer customer questions at all hours of the day. A yin and yang tattoo poked out from underneath his camo shorts and tattoos of Jesus, a thorn of crowns and a dragon covered his biceps. He wore his hair in a ponytail tucked behind a backwards baseball cap – his signature look – along with gold hoop earrings and a long goatee.
“I get the weirdest calls. Fifty calls a day either wanting to sell something or wanting to buy something,” he said. “Half of them are grandma’s china, which I don’t fool with. We do mantiques; that’s what my wife likes to say.”
A mantique is “anything guys like,” he said. So, he sells items like Coke vending machines, pinball games, industrial signs, vintage bicycles and cars. His two-story store was built in the early 1900s and formerly housed the Unity Inn, a vegetarian restaurant and dinner theater. Upstairs, the stage is still intact and Sanchez converted the dressing rooms into a loft apartment where he now lives. A man in Lee’s Summit gave Sanchez a scrapbook of the building’s history, which includes a number of photographs, newspaper clippings and menus. Sanchez even found an old fountain menu upstairs.
“Ice cream soda for 15 cents. Isn’t that cute?” he said.
Odds and ends fill the 10,000 square foot store, some crammed into any hole left. In one corner animal skulls hang on the wall behind a group of yard decorations of Santa Clauses, pumpkins and snowmen. Naked and headless mannequins are posed throughout the store, ready to be dressed in the latest fashions. There’s vintage clothes, bicycles, tribal figurines. Signs from beer companies, gas stations and well-known restaurants plaster the walls. Hanging from the ceiling, there’s a plastic dog at least six-feet long wearing a purple scarf. Upstairs, you’ll find oversized props like tennis rackets and scissors available for rent, along with a mishmash of furniture. Anything you could imagine, Weird Stuff Antiques probably has it.
Sanchez’s weirdest find was a two-headed calf inside a jar.
“You don’t find that crap anymore. You don’t find that stuff,” he said.
Over the years the antique business has changed for Sanchez.
During the ’70s and ’80s, he worked for a company delivering trucks to California. While there, he promoted his antique business and sold items to antique shops along Santa Monica Boulevard and to those seeking props for Hollywood sets. To show off his antique cars, he drove them along the beach and whipped out Polaroid photographs of other items available for sale. He advertised in the newspaper and mailed photographs to interested buyers. He became a regular at the Rose Bowl swap meet and would sneak in around 3 a.m. as sellers set up their booths.
“We would run with our flashlights to see what people were unpacking,” he said. “There were 100-plus dealers every time with just killer stuff. We’re talking Hollywood here. It was phenomenal.”
Sanchez no longer uses Polaroids. His wife, Unique, updates the Weird Stuff Antiques website daily and regularly posts items to Craigslist and Ebay. His son Christian now runs the store and Sanchez fills his time with swap meets, dumpster diving and garage sales. Sanchez also keeps busy with his side businesses of flipping and renting houses, Owl Motors, an antique car business, and his prop rental business.
“I’m a workaholic,” Sanchez said. “I’ve been seven days a week my whole life. It serves me well to have a lot of things going on. I don’t screw things up because I’ve got no time.”
As TV shows like the “American Pickers” have gained popularity, so has Sanchez. This year, he received offers for five reality TV shows. Sanchez said he doesn’t have time for a TV show and added he probably says the f-word too much to be on TV.
Sanchez still has his hand in Hollywood, however. As a member of the Missouri Film Commission, Sanchez has rented out props and classic cars for music videos and movies. For the U2 music video, “Last Night On Earth,” Sanchez rented out six classic cars and Sanchez, his friends and Christian got to drive them in the video. In one shot, Sanchez’s arm is easily visible.
“Christian said, ‘Dad, look there’s you’re arm! You’re famous,” Sanchez said.
Most recently, Sanchez rented out props for the psychological thriller “Peacock,” starring Ellen Page and Susan Sarandon.
For Christian, working with Sanchez means there’s never a dull moment.
“It’s a trip,” Christian said of his dad. “He’s non-stop. He’s always thinking about something – the next endeavor, the next piece he can buy, the next car he can work on. If he’s not busy, he’s got me busy.”
Growing up with a dad obsessed with antiques meant the home décor wasn’t typical.
“He had all this weird stuff and my friends had these nice, normal homes, and my dad lived in turquoise and pink houses.”
In the living room hung a pair of giant scissors and the Jolly Green Giant. Then, there were the pictures of vintage pinup girls and nude art on the wall.
“It wasn’t the “Leave It to Beaver” type of home by any means,” Christian said. “He’s always been more of a friend than a dad. He always gave me advice; he never gave me judgment.”
With every item Sanchez brings in to the store, there’s always a story, Christian said.
And those items continue to attract photography students.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in and take pictures,” Christian said.
Area high schools will bring students to practice their photography skills inside the store, and students usually leave with some unique item in their hand. One time, a wedding party requested to take pictures upstairs with all the props.
“It was kind of a white trash wedding party and it was super cool,” he said.
Asked what his favorite part of the store is, Christian said, “Just him (dad). He’s a trip.
“I never know what he’s going to bring in the door. I never know what unique, odd, crazy thing I’ll have to market and place in the store. The things he brings in just overwhelm me sometimes.
“He’s the funnest part, believe it or not, and the best.”