FAIRFIELD — Fifteen years ago, Brenda and Wayne Gamage bought an old furniture store on U.S. Route 201 and left their jobs.

Their idea was to open an antiques mall, something new to both of them, and they quickly fell in love with it.

“We just decided this was what we were going to do, and we really enjoy it. It’s worked out well,” said Brenda Gamage, 64.

The couple, who live in Benton, are celebrating the 15th anniversary of their store this weekend by looking back on years of collecting and dealing antiques and oddities.

The Gamages bought the building, which is now one of the largest antiques malls in the state, during an ice storm in 1998. The business was originally going to be run by Wayne’s brother, who was an experienced antiques dealer, but when he wanted to sell it, the Gamages, who had both left full-time jobs to help start the mall, decided to run it themselves.

They went around to auctions and shops, leaving flyers on windshields and telling people about the business.

They started with about 27 vendors, but now have about 100, said Brenda Gamage.

Today the five-story building is a treasure trove filled with vintage toys and model trucks, china dishes and a life-sized stuffed lion organized into little cubbies for each vendor. There is also a wooden Trojan horse that is five feet tall and five feet long, an auction piece that Brenda Gamage originally intended to put in her living room.

A room with walls of repolished cast-iron skillets is the first to greet those who enter and leads to cases of antique toys and another room with racks of vintage clothes. Beyond that there are records, old books and rooms filled with antique lamps and furniture.

Brenda Gamage said the mall is near capacity for vendors, but when new dealers want to set up shop to sell things, they must follow guidelines.

“We don’t sell any crafts, and we try to keep the quality at a certain level. We wouldn’t want to sell anything you could get at K-Mart or anything from recent years like beanie babies,” she said.

Shoppers from Texas, California and Europe are among those who appear in the store every year, said Wayne Gamage, and the store is open year-round.

“There’s not one day that a new person doesn’t walk through the door,” said Brenda Gamage.

It is also an attraction to antique dealers from the coast who come inland and buy antiques for lower prices and then resell them, said Brenda Gamage.

The Gamages work year round, but usually take three weeks to a month off in the fall to travel. They have been to China, India, Thailand and Egypt and often collect antiques while they are away.

The couple’s daughter and three granddaughters work at the store and help run it while they’re gone.

“Antiques are different everywhere you go, and by traveling I’m able to find things I wouldn’t find in Maine,” said Brenda Gamage.

She said the best part is that she can collect things for her home, which has an Africa room and an India room.

“I buy things, and if I only like them for a while, I can always sell them,” she said.

Rachel Ohm —  612-2368
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