Either you get the allure of secondhand stuff or you don’t.
Harry Kniffin, he gets it.
“I’m the king of stuff,” the 1964 Santa Rosa High graduate proclaims from his chair out in front of Harry’s Second-Hand Warehouse.
Kniffin has for about 40 years bought, sold, haggled and held court at the humble, red-painted, cinder-block landmark in Santa Rosa’s West End neighborhood.
You can probably guess what comes next: Harry’s Second-Hand has entered its final days. All right, its final months.
Kniffin and the owner of the jam-packed warehouse have come to agree that the arrangement has run its course.
So Kniffin is cutting prices and bracing for the truly mind-bending task of clearing the floor, shelves, racks, tables and walls laden with a world-class hodgepodge of not-new merchandise that in fancy writing is called antiques or collectibles or curios or timeless treasures.
Kniffin is conflicted about shutting down his emporium, which is easier to find than to state where it is. It’s immediately north of West Ninth Street at the point where you think you’re on Wilson Street or Cleveland Avenue, but, in fact, you’re at the southern terminus of 101-severed Ripley Street.
“I have loved the business all these years,” Kniffin said. But, he adds, “I’m 72, and I’m a Vietnam veteran and my Agent Orange has kicked in.
“It’s time to let it go.”
His age and health and other factors are making it easier for Kniffin to step back from a paying hobby — one that hooked him when he was a kid, watching his late father, Tom, spot a nice, old car or handsaw or who knows what in somebody’s yard. The elder Kniffin, who flew for the Marines and as a civilian worked as a dairyman, railroadman and nurseryman, would offer to buy the item and, if successful, would then try to sell it at a profit.
“We were the original pickers back then,” said Harry Kniffin, who’s also an appraiser and auctioneer of antiques.
He joined the Army in 1965 and following a tour in Vietnam was sent to Germany. There, he discovered he could buy old clocks, beer steins, furniture and such for what he figured was a fraction of what he could get for them in the States.
“I came back with three (shipping) containers,” he said. That was 50 years ago.
Following his stint in the military, Kniffin trained to become a schoolteacher. But classroom positions were scarce then, in the wake of voters’ approval of the property tax-limiting Proposition 13, and he found no job.
So he made a career of his avocation, buying secondhand stuff as cheaply as possible and selling it somewhat less cheaply.
Kniffin rented a wooden warehouse on Ripley Street at West Ninth and filled it with furniture and miscellany he’d purchased at auctions, estate sales and elsewhere. After a few years, he expanded into the cinder-block warehouse across Ripley.
“It had been the Kilpatrick Bread depot. They stored their trucks there,” he said.
The former bread depot became Kniffin’s retail museum and grand galleria of stuff.
He has in there everything but vacant space. There is bygone-age furniture and lamps, vases, plates, bowls, glasses, pots and pans.
Here’s a Flip Wilson record. And a Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby race car with the front left wheel broken off. A set of glasses with genuine walnut-veneer jackets. A miniature wheelbarrow in brass. A Tinkertoy cylindrical box. A metal Blondie lunch box nearly covered in Chiquita Banana stickers. An egg carton of golf balls.