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  • Writer's pictureHelaina Ferraioli

A Picker's Dream: Our Plainfield, NJ Warehouse Adventure

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

Imagine you were given the chance to go back in time (sixty years) and find untouched treasures exactly as they were left – on an industrial scale. In August of 2017, we got a call from a fellow antique dealer that would give us access to an exclusive look back at America’s manufacturing heyday.

By invitation only, we were asked, along with a handful of other antique dealers, to pick through and purchase perfectly preserved foreign imports at an abandoned warehouse in Plainfield, NJ. Records show that Edward P Paul & Co. occupied the warehouse which was established in 1898. The building and its interior had sat idle and filled with goods for the later quarter of the 20th century.

After it was marked for abandonment in 2016, the property owner was ready to give over the lot to the state for rehabilitation and redevelopment. In order to liquidate the property, decades worth of imports had to be removed from the building – and it was up to a select number of pickers and dealers to get the job done.

On a rainy day, we pulled up in front of the huge, century-old warehouse. Located in the eastern portion of Plainfield, the building occupied a total area of 223,463 square feet. As we approached the entrance, we had no idea the extent of what this seemingly abandoned warehouse held. We trudged through the muddy parking lot towards the big barn-door entrance, and the moment we walked in, our eyes lit up like a golden ticket winner entering Wonka’s Factory for the very first time - except this was real.

Here's the moment that we walked into the warehouse:

The first thing we saw upon entering was a 25-yard long table overflowing with vintage art glass, vases, figurines, and lamps, all in mint condition. We were ready to start, thinking this was the bulk of the inventory, but we quickly came to find that there was much more. We walked past the table, following a pair of steel tracks along the floor which led us to another set of barn doors. When we stepped through them, as far as the eye could see there were endless piles and shelves stacked with treasures and vintage imports –a city block long to be exact. Not only was there a bottom floor filled with treasure, but there was an upstairs that was stuffed twice as much with giant shipping crates filled with straw that cradled the imports. These were the packing peanuts of their day.

Stacks of wooden import crates filled with packing hay
Wooden Import Crates

We explored the industrial-sized, wooden shipping crates and found thousands of unique, vintage items that had not yet seen the light of day in the U.S. One crate might have held mid-century modern salt and pepper shakers, and the next crate might have had beautiful Italian alabaster ashtrays. It was a treasure hunt with no foreseeable end.

Walking through this vast expanse, there were full industrial metal shops, electric shops, and workbenches. Projects were partially completed, some pieces only half-welded like they expected to show up the next day to finish them. But they never did. It appeared as though one day, employees had been working and they suddenly picked up and left. Everything was exactly as it had been placed when the warehouse doors were shuttered.

Italian Marble table tops, lamp bases, pots, and more.
1000s of Italian Marble Imports

During our hunt, there was no lighting, so we had to use our cellphones on top of whatever sunlight came through the windows. There was one room that was filled with piles and piles of hand stretched lampshades from Italy. In the room next to it was a space filled to the brim with stacks of marble slabs in all shapes and sizes. Other rooms contained an eclectic mix of Italian, German, and Japanese gems with no apparent order to what was stored where. It was a chaotic and random ecstasy for born pickers like us. Every box we went through was like opening a surprise birthday gift that you didn’t expect.

Here's a video of a typical "dig":

Because the building was so large, and the pieces we found were so heavy, and there was only one way out, every trip was extremely exhausting. If we bought something on one end of the warehouse, we had to drag it all the way to the front or down the stairs. While hand trucks were available, a lot of the transportation of the items found involved extreme physical exertion and sheer power of will. Luckily, the only casualty was a case of pink-eye as a result of decades worth of dust and aged packing hay living in the air.

In the end, we went back a total of three times, filling our twelve foot box truck each time. We barely made a dent in the vast inventory stored there. While we wished to go back and buy more and more of these mint-conditioned goodies, the shop simply did not have the storage capacity to fulfill our craving to keep going back (remember, this was before our expansion in 2019).

While there was plenty left at the site, we bought so many pieces back on those warm summer days in 2017 that today, almost three years later, Yesterday’s News is still selling a plethora of new/old stock finds from the Plainfield warehouse:

It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us to have unlimited access to a world’s worth of inventory that would otherwise be lost to time or thrown away. You can still find some of these reasonably priced artifacts at our shop.

Check out one of our latest Instagram posts to see just a small sample of what is available!

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