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Ever-changing antique store closing its doors

Al's Antique Mall prominently displays signs for its retirement sale. The store will officially close its doors on July 31. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 5
Signs throughout the store highlight the 50%, 40% and 30% sale items. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Gretchen Lee (left), Cathy Novak, Alan Novak and dog Esther make up the Al's Antique Mall team. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
The store almost feels like a museum, with garages full of unique antiques and collectibles. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
Cases are full of valuable items, from knives to hot wheels to dishware. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

Al's Antique Mall will close its doors for the final time on July 31, after 11 years at the current property and 27 years in the business.

The always-growing stop for antiques and collectibles has reached the end of the line as a fixture in the popular antique scene in Red Wing.

"The concept was to have it like a museum," Cathy Novak, owner of Al's Antique Mall along with husband Alan Novak, said. "Business has been good, but we're getting old."

The going out-of-business sale is exactly that: a retirement sale. The Novaks have enjoyed their success with the store, but believe it's finally time to move on.

"The whole customer has changed and it's a new generation. What you once thought was rare is now on ebay," Al said.

With the changing landscape, popular items also have made a transition.

"Collector plates don't sell anymore ... but I could sell you a $50 Star Wars toy. But like with any business, you change with what's important to new customers. It took a long time to learn this business, but you do fine if you change with it," Cathy added.

Brick-and-mortar stores such as Al's are becoming less common with a new generation of customers who have grown up with the internet market.

Al remembered back to when he started in the business, there were about 10 to 12 antique stores in Red Wing. His current estimation brings that number closer to five stores, a decline he has seen as a trend nationwide in recent years.

Even with that said, the Novaks remain pleased with the results from the amount of work they've put into the shop. Supplying such a wide variety of inventory can be demanding and time consuming.

"It's an interesting business because it's something new every day. I was still teaching in 2002 and took a leave of absence. I never went back because this was more fun," Cathy said.

The Novaks built much of their collection from estate sales. They would take everything from the houses and sort it out for what could be used in the store.

"Cleaning out an estate is like moving a whole house-full. I always say, I don't sweep the floors or clean the windows, but the house will be empty," Al jokingly said.

Finding items that haven't been seen in decades is common in such estates. But sorting through for the treasures is another story.

"You have the good, the bad and the ugly. About one third of the items are reusable stuff we can't use, which goes to Goodwill. About one-third is junk we get rid of, and the other third can be used for the shop," Al said.

There is a lot of work behind the scenes, but the Novaks said they constantly worked to provide "new" products on the shelves. The inventory is almost hard to believe.

Al described stuff that had until recently filled a five-car garage. They've sold that property, and now have two garages behind store.

"We still have good stuff, we just have to get to it. I enjoy sitting down and researching the items and discovering what you have as a piece of history is really cool," Cathy said.

She believes if someone likes history, the antique business is definitely something that will interest them. She's found items from as far back as the 1800s in some of the estate sales.

"We sell memories to people, which are things they remember from their childhood. We also sell history and decor," Cathy said.

"Decor is one of the bigger items versus the collector. The collector hasn't totally died, but it's a lot more of accent pieces in someone's house," Al said.

Returning customers from as far as Georgia have been saddened by the news of the antique mall's closure. The Novaks said that people are happy for them to be retiring, but at the same time are sad to see the store go and the hole it will leave.

"We really appreciate our customers. There's been a lot of repeat customers, and it's been good business," Al said.

The store will remain open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through July 31. After the store closes, the Novak's will finish off their business by sending leftover items to auction. It will be the final step in closing out their museum of history and memories.