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Buyer Finds Time Capsule at Harper's

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Developer Douglas Jemal has added another chunk of real estate to his growing cluster of downtown properties. In a recent purchase, Jemal's Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Development snagged four more Broad Street properties for $1.8 million last week, including the former Harper's Department Store at 201 E. Broad St., which dates to the 1930s. What he didn't bargain for is the three floors of vintage merchandise, packed floor to ceiling, that's been untouched for what looks like decades.

"This place is a treasure trove of old clothing and children's furniture -- most of it in very good condition," says Tom Robinson, the real estate agent who handled the purchase of the building.

Robinson is stuck with the task of dealing with the piles of children's, men's and women's clothing, such as shoes, stockings and undergarments (including Richmond-made Gunston nylons). There are also children's furniture, vintage electronics and other sundry items.

"One idea was to have someone like Goodwill or Bygones set up a temporary store on the first floor to sell the stuff," Robinson says, "but the new owner wants to have the stuff out a lot sooner than that can happen." So Robinson is looking for a liquidator or buyers who can handle large amounts of merchandise.

A short-term plan for some of the merchandise is to create a historically accurate vignette of visual merchandising techniques from Harper's heyday. The window-dressing concept works in tandem with Robinson's other downtown project, Vacant Spaces = Artful Places, which fills empty store windows along East Broad Street with art.

"We are asking for help from Bygones to come down and dress the front store window so that it would reflect the style of a typical Harper's display," Robinsons says, "with lighting, mannequins, price tags and everything just like it would have been back then." S



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