Let's go back in time with 'Somewhere in Time'
Old hats, vintage clothing and bric-a-brac line the window of Leonard Paolillo’s 115 French St. antique store, Somewhere in Time.
The abundantly decorated storefront sits pretty on a New Brunswick block that also features Dollar Discount, Hub Liquors, Latin markets and NAPA Auto Parts that can seem like a mirage at first.
It is unusual to see a place like Somewhere in Time in New Brunswick. Then again, so is the 70-year-old Paolillo. His friend and client, Barbara Mulea, argues that he is “ageless."
Even though Somewhere in Time has operated in the same place for 30 years, it is only one of the many passions Paolillo has. Having already been labeled a dancer, window dresser at a Jordan Marsh department store, United States Army soldier, choreographer and salon owner Paolillo has settled on being an antique dealer, costume designer, estate sale organizer and business owner.
“I’ve always had a taste for the old and making it new again,” Paolillo said. “My mother was a big influence, she had impeccable taste. We used to go to Salvation Army to buy our clothes.”
Point to something and he can probably recall the story attached to it with seemingly little effort. That piece there? His sister gave it to him years ago. One particular clock was a gift from a customer, and his mother’s butcher gave him the old basket of faux fruit when he retired. These are Paolillo's treasures and they are not for sale.
“I was in the Army from 1964 to '66, stationed in Germany," Paolillo said. "In fact, that’s where I got that Marilyn, that Warhol. I bought it at the museum there, that's been there 30 years. It's just something I enjoy, memories, memories."
Positive and self-confident, one might forget that Paolillo, who is a self-declared gay man, bore the burden of his identity through decades.
“I've always been comfortable in my own skin. I never had a problem with my skin — other people did, but that was their problem — I've always enjoyed me,” Paolillo said.
While working with the United Service Organizations, Paolillo completed hairdressing school and set up Leonard’s of Boston Beauty and Wig Shop. While there, Muela told him antique dealing was “in his blood”.
Paolillo's partner and husband of 45 years, Doug Sterner, turns to see what Mulea has gotten into.
“Barbara used to model for us. Isn’t that fabulous? Put your hands in the pockets," Sterner said. "A lot of clothes that I see are one way, but I know should be another, I change them. I also do some from scratch. When I was in the Army, I was with the USO, and in the barracks, there was this old Singer sewing machine."
Paolillo said his focus has shifted to fashion. His original designs and improvements come to life in his runway shows. He uses his shows as an opportunity to support charitable organizations like the Somerset-based ASL Interpreter Referral Services.
“When I do a show, I do sizes two to 24, so everyone gets to go on the runway,” Paolillo said. “I've always interacted with all walks of life, even growing up.”
Kathy Kady-Hopkins, president and co-owner of ASL-IRS, often visited Somewhere in Time for several years before she and Paolillo began talking about collaborating. While working with him, Kady-Hopkins noticed he demonstrated his abilities as an artist of old times and fashion.
“What I have learned about Lenny is he is very talented at putting things together and making the models beautiful regardless of size and shape,” Kady-Hopkins said. “He was always caring and excited to do well and care about people.”
Business is good at Somewhere in Time, which is the lone survivor of about a dozen former nearby antique shops. Though French Street is hardly the pride of New Brunswick, Paolillo prefers to see a positive transformation where it can be difficult to get past the rough edges.
“New Brunswick was all mom-and-pop stores on George Street," Paolilli said. "There were a lot of hairdressers, the hat shop was across the street from me. Everyone worked together, not like today.”
Despite the increasing disappearance of both mom and pop from the streets of New Brunswick, Paolillo still finds that the city has changed for the better.
“When I bought this building this street looked like a bomb hit it, but I knew, I just knew,” Paolillo said.
His business has outlived its competitors by Paolillo’s ability to adapt, buckle down and create.
“It's not just an antique shop, I reinvent myself all the time. I never get bored, I'll do this until I'm 80,” Paolillo said. “I don't go by antique value. I haven't changed my prices in 30 years, and that's why I'm still here.”
Profits from estate sales, runway shows and dealing in bulk to New York City retailers provide a partial explanation for Paolillo's financial success. There is something more to it than just shrewd business decisions and hard work though. Paolillo makes sure his customers and clients know how important they are to him.
“My customers come first, they get to see everything first before it goes out to New York,” Paolillo said.
Though he spends a great deal of time around these intricate little objects, Paolillo’s bottom line is a simple one.
“I hope to get out of bed every morning and create,” Paolillo said.
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