CUBA CITY, Wis. -- It's a good thing Vance DeLire isn't afraid of heights. If he was, he might not be in business.
"Fifty feet up off the ground, walking across a roof, carrying big chunks of fancy terra cotta," he said, describing a memorable salvage effort. "Every day is an adventure, for sure. There's always something new."
DeLire's Antiques & Salvage recently moved to Cuba City from Dubuque.
Entering Antiques & Salvage is like a trip back in time, as far back as the early- to mid-19th century. The eyes linger, hesitant to depart the treasures they see -- from ornate furniture pieces to church pews, fireplace mantels, side altars, bookcases, dressers, two-piece cupboards, cameras and coffee grinders.
There are framed pictures of famed actor Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, and eye candy for the antique enthusiast. The store boasts cast-iron radiators, claw-foot bathtubs, neatly stacked panels of tin ceilings and windows from Craftsman-style houses with multicolored panes.
"We're a small, mom-and-pop business basically," said DeLire, modestly.
DeLire said he has a passion for saving architectural elements of the past.
"Stuff you can't get anymore, like from the old-growth trees, some 500 years old," DeLire said. "I just love quality, old stuff of the past; stuff made to last. I'm a sucker for any of that stuff. The design stuff comes natural, but the history in the object really gets me going."
The business specializes in retail architectural salvage, as well as fine antique furniture. It offers a variety of items, from complete staircases to doorknobs and light fixtures.
DeLire has an eye for reuse and repurpose. For him, salvage from old school houses, churches and 19th century Victorian homes all have merit.
DeLire, 44, began salvaging at age 17, as a hobby, when some old homes in his Dubuque neighborhood (Grandview Avenue and Dodge Street) were torn down to make way for road improvements.
DeLire was allowed to salvage what he could before demolition.
"I thought it was wrong. You just couldn't see it go to waste. They were just smashing them," he said. "I didn't know what to do with it, but I knew it had to be saved."
When friends kept asking for the "salvage," DeLire decided to make his hobby a profession. The Dubuque Senior High School graduate used to make a living selling salvaged Ford Mustangs he restored. Some of them are still around.
The architecturally significant Odd Fellows Hall (known as the American Tower), located on the corner of Ninth and Locust streets, razed for an American Bank & Trust building in 1998, was another big salvage for DeLire.
"Lots of cool stuff that made their way into houses," he said.
CUBA CITY MOVE
Antiques & Salvage formerly called the old Linseed Oil building at 901 Jackson St. home.
"No alternative," he said without rancor. "They said I had to go."
DeLire was OK with moving to Cuba City, a downtown void of parking meters.
"Parking meters don't encourage tourism, they kill it," DeLire said. "Parking meters are not meant to generate revenue."
Cuba City wasn't foreign territory. DeLire's father, Steve, owns the building that house Tin Lantern Antiques. As a youth, he would work in the business.
DeLire has more than doubled his space.
"A huge, huge building, too big for most people," he said. "I thought this would be perfect for me. When I first came to see it, I knew exactly what I was buying. I just had to make it happen."
The building is historically significant, having been with the city's Donohoo family for 79 years.
Dillon Donohoo established a dry goods and grocery store in 1916, and later added furniture to the business offerings. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, Don Donohoo returned to his hometown of Cuba City and went to work at Dillon Donohoo Department Store, his father's business. Don and a brother, Sam, bought the business in 1947 and concentrated on furniture sales.
Donohoo ran the store for nearly 50 years, until closing it in 1995. Owl Furniture was in the building for several years.
"We're just happy to see someone in the building," said Sharon Donohoo, Don's daughter. "We have such fond memories and we hated to see the building sit empty. We wish Mr. DeLire all the best and hope he's successful."
DeLire said the city has been welcoming.
"They say, 'What can we do to help you?'" he said. "There's a very friendly business climate."
An added plus is the building is connected to a historic railroad depot that DeLire hopes to restore as a tourist attraction. He also plans on building a permanent tribute to the Don Donahue family.
DeLire is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Customers often peek in the window on Thursday, and try to be the first in the door on Friday.
"As early as possible to see a fresh, new wave of stuff that's come in," he said, noting there's a constant flow of new offerings. "It goes, and it's just amazing the turnover."
DeLire doesn't need to advertise. Fueled by word-of-mouth, his prowess is well-known, and customers trek from Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. An individual could almost furnish an entire house from the inventory. When he's not in Cuba City, DeLire and his salvagers are on the road, like the crew from "This Old House."
"It's a passion, that's for sure," he said. "It never stops, even on Sunday."
DeLire's son Stephen, 18, often assists at the salvage sites; his daughter Megan, 15, at the showroom.
Cuba City officials are thrilled DeLire chose Cuba City to relocate to.
"We are excited to have Vance in Cuba City," said Taylor Gronau, the city's economic development director. "Having Vance's business locate in Cuba City is important for a number of reasons," including filling a longtime vacancy, drawing people from a wider area and creating a cluster of antique shops.
Jim Bousley, a Cuba City Common Council member, shared Gronau's sentiments.
"Other than its people who make Cuba City what it is, Main Street is also important to us," he said. "It's the heart and soul of our community. Main Street is what gives people their first impression of our community. So, it is vitally important that we fill our vacant buildings on Main Street with viable businesses that make an instant contribution to that impression."