RIVERFRONT TRADE • Steve Naylor’s Innovative Vintage Merchandise Emporium

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 901   By: Robert E Martin

27th August, 2020     0

“Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly.  The scope of thrift is limitless.”  -  Thomas Edison

For Steve Naylor, the proud owner & proprietor of Riverfront Trade, it can be safely said that the animus piloting both his business plan and his approach to life is  one of being part of the solution, not part of the pollution.

Located at 829 Gratiot Avenue in the former West Side Saginaw branch office of Huntington Bank, Steve specializes in finding, purchasing, and reselling  quality merchandise ranging from vintage musical instruments and precious jewelry and metals such as gold & silver, to vintage firearms and electronics, with a smattering of posters, artwork, and the occasional piece of vintage furniture thrown in for good measure.

At this particular period when our state and national economy is in turmoil and a record number of brick-and-mortar businesses are filing for bankruptcy, the tale of Steve’s success with his new store is one of vision, commitment, and a keen eye for recognizing the durability and value of well-crafted merchandise that has withstood the test of time.

Steve first became interested in dealing with the resale of vintage goods back in the late 1990s. “It didn’t happen overnight.  Growing up through the years I had different kinds of jobs ranging from painting cars to selling guitars at RIt Music,” he recalls. “Shortly after that I started an online business called Great Lakes Guitar, which was my main step forward into the vintage resale market. I would buy four or five vintage guitars at a time and most of them needed work, so I would clean them up and list them on the marketplace.  I never saw a flawless vintage instrument, but they still retained their value.”

“Back in 1999 E-bay was going mad in terms of bidding that was going on with vintage instruments, so I was able to get involved at the beginning of all that.  I would go to different pawn shops in the area, purchase these vintage instruments, refurbish and then ship them all over the world to places like Canada and China.  Not too many of them ended up here in the United States, unfortunately, but my entry into this business definitely started with a musical focus.”

After testing the waters, Steve started focusing upon the world of vintage firearms. “This arena took a while to push forward because of all the federal paperwork involved, but I discovered there existed these niches for gun collectors - items such as side-by-side guns, or collectors focusing on certain brands such as Parker, or Winchester collectors that came out of the closet.”

As the millennium turned into the 2000s, Steve started looking at different markets and turning his eye towards jewelry and precious metals as solid areas to invest. He bought his first store in 2006, which was located on Gratiot Avenue in Saginaw’s West Side next to Hamilton Home Bakery, and was formerly Smith’s Market.

 “As I got involved with jewelry and precious metals I would learn little quick ways to see if an item was fake or not very good,” he explains. “The easiest and quickest way to determine whether a gemstone or precious metal is real or not is mainly an acid test - you scratch on a stone and drop acid on it, which is a fairly easy method.  As I got more comfortable with investing in this area and a few mistakes later, I got more comfortable dealing with these items.  I didn’t go to college for it, but through trial-and-error, I somehow managed to pay for that education.”

Shortly after this, Steve started expanding into vintage electronics and other collectable items and realized that each arena would peak in a seasonal manner.   “Firearms become hot sellers in the Fall months because all the hunters come out of the woodwork looking for deer rifles and small game guns,” he notes.  “When Christmas season rolls around jewelry starts to sell, as well as musical instruments with guys coming in for an acoustic guitar for their grandson.”

“There was a period when I would sell landscaping and yard tools, which were hot in the Spring & Summer months; but I don’t handle those items anymore because everyone uses regular gas with them, but you’re supposed to use recreational gas in all those weed whackers and leaf blowers,” he continues. “I would take these items outdoors to fire them up and realize I’d have to invest at least $30 bucks to get the carburetor cleaned-up, so I dropped that ghost and tuned into precious metals, firearms, musical instruments, and electronics, which is working out very well.  The outdoor equipment was lucrative at first, but once you’ve got to put money back into something you’ve already bought, it turns sour fast.”

When it comes to procurement of his inventory, Steve says the internet is a great resource for selling, but he doesn’t do much buying online.  “Most of our items we get from people bringing it in, so I don’t have to search it out,” he states. “Game systems are a good example because they change a lot; and around tax time our electronics items fly out the door.  We’ll get televisions, gaming systems, or Apple I-Pads and during the months of February and March all the electronic items really pick up.”

Recently Steve purchased a new location at 829 Gratiot Ave., the location of the former Huntington Bank West Side branch, and changed the name of his business to Riverfront Trade, which is smartly appointed and a beautiful up-scale showcase for his many rare and collectable items.

“The old building was getting tired and I was looking for a big vault for safety along with a big parking lot, so this turned out to be the perfect location,” he reflects. “Our inventory is constantly changing so similar to Walmart,  we’ll get people coming in to do a quick once-around because you never know what guitar is going to pop up or diamond ring that will become available.”

When asked about incredibly rare and valuable items that have come his way that turned out to become great finds, Steve mentions a small desktop cannon that actually fired. “It was 50-years old and a real cannon and a pretty cool item,” he notes. “Probably the most unique item was an intricate piece of custom-made jewelry crafted with diamonds and beautiful emeralds and sapphires. I’ve also come across rare firearms where only 50 were manufactured; and probably the oldest and rarest thing that I obtained were some old coins from the early 1800s that were in decent shape.”

“Once I was able to obtain two original Star Wars movie posters from the 1970s - the original Stars Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  I love to obtain items like that because it sparks interest,” he adds. “The same with old maps - I had one vintage map of the Saginaw Bay come through the door that originated from a branch of the military, so I’m always interested in cool and unique stuff that is worth something on a vintage or an artistic level.”

When asked what he feels distinguishes Riverfront Trade from other competitive pawn or resale shops in the region, Steve is quick to point out that he is not a Pawn Shop. “When I bought the new building I decided to change the name from Riverfront Discount to Riverfront Trade. I didn’t like the way the old name sounded and it wasn’t what I was trying to produce.  What I aim to feature is a place where people can trade, buy, or sell - a trading post, if you will. That’s how I came up with the name. Plus, because we are located in the Riverfront district our new name is perfect and also delineates our clientele better.”

Regarding his process for purchasing items from people Steve states that with precious metals and firearms there is always a bit of wiggle room. “Sometimes I have to explain to people that they might see an item valued for $250, but then when they go to E-bay they’ll see it going for less; plus E-Bay takes about 13% of the sale, which adds up to a chunk of change.  Usually for an item valued at $100 I will mark it up 25 or 30%, as I usually need to clean it up; plus customers understand I also need to make a buck. My focus is on dealing with volume to keep customers and clientele coming through, so I don’t want to get greedy when it comes to marking items up too high.”

According to Steve his biggest challenge is keeping up with merchandising the showroom floor. “I like to change it around and present some of my back-stock and keep things in rotation,” he explains. “Right now with the lockdowns still in effect, I’m basically short-staffed, so try to do this with limited employees.  I have merchandise stored downstairs so bringing items up and moving it around can be a challenge. Plus, once in a while somebody will bring in a cool table, or chair, or a lamp, and I like to get those cleaned up and displayed.”

“I also love it when old photographs and prints come into the store. Once I had this beautiful signed painting of a hot air balloon and this couple came into the shop and loved it, so I will always accept the challenge to take something off the beaten path.  On another occasion, I had someone bring a casket into me once and shame on me for not taking it, because after I rejected it I realized that October was coming around the corner and it probably would have sold during the Halloween season,” Steve laughs.

“Now my motto is: If I can move it, I’ll take it.”

“But that’s what makes this business exciting.  You never know what’s coming in the door next.”

Riverfront Trade is located at 829 Gratiot Ave. in Saginaw. You can phone them by calling 989.921.2222.  They also pay top dollar for gold, silver and diamonds. Their hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm. You can also find them online at https://riverfront-trade.business.site.





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