One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, says owner of Prague Bric a Brac shop Milos Gavrilovic

14-05-2009

Milos Gavrilovic is the owner of Bric a Brac, a Prague antique shop known for its thousands of items crammed into two small stores right off of Old Town Square. Serbian born Gavrilovic and his Croatian wife Sonja moved to the Czech Republic in 1991 from Yugoslavia, when their country was on the brink of a civil war. After selling antique plates on Charles Bridge, he opened his first store, which has now been in business for 16 years.

Milos GavrilovicMilos Gavrilovic When we spoke in his shop, we sat surrounded by typewriters, paintings, and toys as Milos Gavrilovic told me the story of how the idea for Bric a Brac first came about.

“Accidentally. It was not called Bric a Brac. It was not what you see now. It was in a little shop just around the corner. I was selling clothes that my wife manufactured because we had to do something.”

“During the first and the second year, I bought a lot of these collectibles and then I had an idea that when couple comes in shop with clothing, for example me and my wife, after 10 minutes I’m bored, I want to go out.

“So I put on display my toys for the male part of the visitors, and while I’m trying to convince the women to buy what Sonja made, they [men] would play with my toys. It was not for sale, it was just on show. And then, slowly, it evolved.”

So do you go out and find everything on your own or do you have employees or a team of people that goes out and looks for these kinds of things?

“No. No employees. I had young people selling and I would go, ‘Only me.’ I would go around and scout for things and buy. And, as you can see, I overdid it. I have so much stuff.”

How many things would you estimate you have?

“I have no clue. I have no clue. Recently, I asked myself, how many things? And then I started counting and I have 150 vases and about the same number of paintings and about the same number of sculptures, either bronze or porcelain. And, I don’t know, maybe 50 lamps. So, then I stopped counting.”

What is the price range, would you say, for the items in the store? What would be among the least expensive items and what would be the most expensive?

“Well, least expensive are postcards. They range from 200 to 900 crowns, depending on what’s there, how old. And then we come to shot glasses for around 500 crowns, if they are nicely cut and from the 1920s to 1930s. Then we come to lamps, table lamps, 5000 to 7000 crowns.

“Then we come to the most expensive item, which is the chandelier there – bronze, from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it took me a week to put it together.

And how much is the chandelier?

“Two hundred thousand crowns. Roughly 10,000 US dollars.”

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Do you agree with that? Is everything here treasure?

“I do. I do in a sense that I see that probably half of what I have I’m never going to be able to sell because it’s basically trash that I treasure very much. I have things that for 10 years no one asked, ‘How much is this?’ Simply, no interest. But, one person’s trash is someone’s treasure.”

Is it ever difficult to part with an item when somebody wants to buy it?

“In the beginning, yes. Well, in the beginning, as I told you, I declined to sell anything. And then, what happened in fact was that someone broke into the store and they stole my collection. And that was really a blow, but it gave me a lesson that these are just things. One shouldn’t connect so much to things. So I let it go.”

“Yes, some things I like to keep for a while—it’s like a talking point. Some things I don’t know what they are so I keep them for a while until I learn what it is or to learn more about it. Some things I take home for a year, two, three, five, and then it comes back to the shop. It gives me pleasure that I can enjoy much more things at home, too.

“But, you can imagine then, we have a lot at home. And then Sonja says, every once in a while, she says that she wants to live Japanese style — nothing, empty.”

Would you say that your business has been affected by the bad economy and the crisis?

“Well, like any other, for sure. Yes, but I’ve noticed the decline is older than this current financial monetary crunch, whatever is happening in the last half a year or year. It’s simply a change in what people look for. Times are changing. People don’t want to have too much clutter around.”

“Or eBay. Before, ten years ago, I would sell typewriting machines weekly or two a day. And now it’s two a month because who is going to carry a typewriting machine to Mexico?”

Why are these items important to you personally?

“Maybe, I didn’t have them when I was a kid. We were poor and then I was reading a lot about things that I had never seen, I imagined them, and then I came across plenty of it. One learns, you take the thing in your hand and then you look at it, examine it, think about who made it, when, why. It’s interesting.”

Would you say that all of these items have stories behind them? When you’re looking for them, do you look for their histories and their stories?

“Of course. Yes, yes. I buy a teapot and it’s beautiful, but it’s even better if it has at least a letter or two because that helps me prove my guessing. I guess it is 1930s, I guess it was made locally, but I can’t prove it.

“But if I see there a little ‘BER,’ oh yes, it’s Berndorf. I know there is a Berndorf building on Na Příkopě. It’s a Bohemian-German family that lived in Prague, had a factory, and they made this and that. It gives me pleasure to examine things.”

People who come into the store seem to marvel at the amount of things there are and they’re so intrigued by everything. Why do you think people are so interested in buying these old items?

“Maybe one of the reasons is because Prague became too tourist oriented and a lot a lot of shops with, I don’t know…just, souvenirs and brand new t-shirts, cups, mugs. And this is authentic, it’s old, interesting and, besides, I spent 15 years collecting this very diligently.

“Every morning and weekends going to markets, you know, early mornings or nights with lamps in snow, rain, no matter what. And then in the daytime I would go through other shops and local auctions. There would be a lot of stuff I buy.”

What is your hope for the store’s future, its items, and for the customers that come in here?

“That is the question I’m asking myself very, very often. It’s not glorious. I mean, I don’t see it that way. I had a good 10 or 15 years from both aspects. One is finding good stuff and the other is selling a good part of it because I make my living, not only me, but two other guys working for me and their families.

"And now, it’s sort of slow. This is stuff that one can live without. Less people coming to Prague and those who come, they spend less money.”

“What I would like, I’ll tell you now what I would like, I would like to put this stuff in a huge container or two and go somewhere with a warmer climate near the sea somewhere, buy a barn, and put the stuff in a barn and then sell or no sell. That’s what I would like.”

Photo: author

14-05-2009