Zaborski’s Emporium is a wonder of Kingston, one of its legends, but I didn’t know about it until a recent walk in my neighborhood. I turned a corner off Broadway onto Hoffman Street. On this quiet tree-lined block was a hulking factory building belching hundreds of rusting radiators all over its parking lot. I was about to learn that it was a bulging gut full of countless — and I mean hundreds of thousands — salvaged treasures inside saved from demolished mansions, dusty attics, and what some might have mistakenly thought were junk piles.
It’s all the doing of Stanley Zaborski, who’s has been in the treasure-hunting business for as long as he can remember. Since 1997, his son Steve has been in it full- time with him. They’re both masters of the art, with a burning passion for hunting down their next find.
It happened to be a bright, warm spring day when I found the emporium, but weather doesn’t matter at Zaborski’s. When you walk across the threshold, it’s another world inside, where it’s always dimly lit like an eternal dusk with a temperature that can drop to freezing. Stanley junked the boiler years ago. The heating bill was too high. It turns out winter’s his best season, when there are no flea markets or garage sales.
People know to dress for the occasion. All kinds of people — homeowners, contractors, high-end architects, restoration aficionados, prop buyers for the New York Metropolitan Opera, movie-company set designers who’ve been buying there for years. There are do-it-yourselfers and curious browsers and guys like the one who was there on his lunch hour looking for a Mother’s Day present that he knew he’d find somewhere in the stacks. Two women who came in looking for a door had to leave because one of them said she was claustrophobic. Her friend said she’d be back later with her husband.
At the turn of the century, 27 Hoffman Street was one of the East-Coast factories of The Manhattan Shirt Co., which manufactured high-grade shirts, underwear, and pajamas. Today, its four floors and 40,000 square feet are packed to the rafters with prime architectural salvage, fittings, furniture and oddball items like a vintage Vespa scooter, a taxidermy shadow box with a stuffed fox inside, or the 1940s wringer washing machine like the one my mother had in the basement that she wouldn’t part with for years. Nothing is donated.
Both father and son are discriminating buyers. Every single tem passes the Zaborskis’ personal inspection. Amazingly, it all gets hauled here now by Stanley and Steve and one other helper.
Steve tells the story of the 400-pound antique bathtub in a four-story brownstone in Manhattan that he had to get down a wrap-around stairwell. “I’ve got a couple of tubs that weigh at least a thousand pounds,” he adds cheerfully. It’s a mind-boggling, back-breaking business, but Steve and his dad say they love it.
Stan’s been in it for more than 50 years. As a boy, he worked along with his father at Stan’s Used Item Shop. He opened his own small antique shop on Albany Avenue in the early 1960s after he got out of the service. In 1997, bought the garment-factory building on Hoffman Street in 1997 with a lifetime to fill it.
“I almost caused a divorce once,” he muses fondly. “A guy came in with his wife and kids. He was looking for records. He picked out a whole pile and I told him it was $200, but if he gave me the money right now he could have all the records in the room. He loaded his station wagon and kept coming back for more. There were probably a thousand albums in the room. I was done with records after that.”
Each floor consists of about 10,000 square feet laid out in a hodge-podge of corridors that wind past bins of every kind of fixtures imaginable. Light filters through the magnificent stained-glass windows lining the walls. There are over 3000 salvaged doors in the basement, and more of everything coming.
Steve makes scouting and buying trips every week — Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, the tip of Long Island. Stan used to only go as far as Albany, but not anymore.
“Would people know if you bought in another bathtub?” I ask Steve.
“No,” he answers. “But I would.”
One day he’d clocked over seven miles on his tracker just working around the building moving stuff. I walked the floors for over an hour, exploring the place, not looking for anything in particular until I found a mahogany silver chest I couldn’t live without. But the highlight of my day was an original ticket window salvaged from Kingston Point Landing in the days when steamships docked there and passengers came to Kingston Point Park to stroll the gardens and ride the carousel. I’d just written about in it in Walkabout. (hudsonvalleyone.com/2022/04/08/walkabout-whats-the-point/).
When I left the emporium, the Zaborskis were talking about a rare circular radiator up in Ithaca. It was from the 1860s. They had stars in their eyes.
Me, I headed over to smell the old-grown lilacs blooming at Kingston Point Park that were planted in the steamships era.