by Lynn Horton
Seventeen years ago, Gail Downs opened the doors to one of Senoia’s most visited and most loved shops—Gail’s Antiques. Half the population of the Tri-County area has crossed the threshold, and over the years thousands have purchased some large or small item which made their hearts happy, often a sweet reminder of their childhood. Decorators from Atlanta also came; film-set designers, and prop managers, sometimes the stars themselves came. Burt Reynolds, Toby Keith, and Norman Reedus crossed the threshold of the 150-year-old landmark, which was originally McKnight General Mercantile, where you could purchase everything from clothing to meat for your dinner. Visitors to Senoia from all over the globe searching for some little something that would always remind them of this charming little southern town often found it at Gail’s. Crystal chandeliers to iron skillets, china dolls to china cabinets, farm implements to Fiesta Ware; Gail’s Antiques could often fill the bill.
On May 1, Gail will lock the doors of her shop for the last time. Oh, there will be tears, for she is not really ready to put aside her merchant’s hat; she says she will be looking for a new shop or a new way to feed her lifelong passion.
Debbie Hindman, Gail’s sister said, “This has been so emotional for all of us. Not only for family but friends and customers as well who have grown to love my sister for her sweet nature.”
Debbie finished, her voice full of tears, “She is the kindest, most compassionate person anywhere! She loves this town and everybody loves her.”
One truth of that is the fact that Ms. Downs ran an unofficial animal rescue operation from her store, placing kittens and dogs, like a Dalmatian and like a large black Lab, into forever homes. Gail planned to “advertise” the big gentle Retriever but her son B.J. argued, “No, he’s perfect!” and Buddy stayed, becoming a fixture of the store for years—kids still come asking for Buddy. Now 13 years old, he prefers to stay home these days.
“Home” is a recently repainted Victorian; now sunshine yellow, it was once a powder pink Bed and Breakfast on Main Street, which the Downs purchased in 2000 just two years before she retired from 36 years in the accounting department at Delta Airlines. The home is purported to have been the old Starr’s Mill home place which was moved by oxcart and by two slaves the distance of about five miles, as the crow flies. That’s the story, anyway. It is indeed a beautiful old, well-loved “Victorian Lady,” peaked roof lines, wrap around porches, curlicues, and all.
What began as a hobby, along with her late husband Don, became much more. They found themselves rummaging around after church on Sundays at Lakewood Antique Market, then bringing their purchases home to spread across the den floor.
“We would sit there, going back to our childhood, playing with our toys.”
He collected guns and military memorabilia; she was in love with Victorian dolls. Gail’s mother, a fan of Early Americana and her grandmother, who lived surrounded with “old stuff,” were instrumental in her lifelong love of antiques. First it was dolls, Victorian. She still loves them. Then it was the hunt and the people she met along the way. And finally, Gail says that she loves seeing people made happy by finding just the right thing they had been searching for, or perhaps didn’t even know they were in love with till the moment they saw it! That’s what led to her second career as a merchant of Treasures, for that is what those call it who select the giant oak sideboard and discover the dusty ole book inside, and the bit of ephemera found in that old book—a ticket, a bill of sale, a love letter. Oh, yes. A treasure!
So, with retirement and a home in Senoia “to put her antiques in,” Gail then wanted her own shop. She wanted to move her antiques and collectibles from the Fayette Court House Square and from the old Dr. Busey home where she said, “I rented booths for years, but was now ready for a place of my own.” She started looking for a building in Senoia. Gail tells of how a very special friend, a strong believer in prayer, visited one weekend from Nashville and learned of Gail’s dream and of the fact that her dear friend was frustrated that nothing was available and the outlook was beyond drear!
Gail says, “She asked me if I minded if she prayed for a solution to my problem. We were standing in front of the area down near the Hollberg warehouse. I said, ‘Sure. Thank you,’ and she began her prayer campaign.” Well, it didn’t take long before that very specific prayer was answered and Gail hung the pretty green sign with the hand painted roses over the door of #22 Main Street. “Gail’s Antiques”
Folks from the townships close to the emporium, Peachtree City, Newnan, Fayetteville, and even further afield, have come to know the lovely proprietress of the quaint shop on Main Street, a woman who has become so much more to this town which she has called home for 19 years, more than just a shopkeeper. It was slow going at first; the hoped-for overflow from customers at Hollbergs did materialize, but it wasn’t until a new sewer system was installed that business really picked up; restaurants now came to a sleepy little town with not much more than a Video Store and a Hardware Business and the rest is ….Well, you know the story. But on May 1 things will change again. Until then, you can still stop in and find bargains at 50-percent discounts, great books can still be purchased at half price in Lindy’s booth. She has been a bookseller there for 11 years and is trying to smile like the rest of those who have been part of this lady’s life and the long life of this iconic store.
Anyone who has enjoyed the programs sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority, the September Car Shows, the moving Memorial Day Remembrance—Parades, Tree Lightings, the Candlelight Tour of Homes, should realize that Gail Down’s fingerprints are all over them. And she will continue to pursue her passion, because “Once you love antiques, you never stop loving them, or finding that perfect thing that will make your day…or someone else’s.”