If a fire were to ever break out in her antiques store, Remy Cabaltera would probably try to save a painting of a koi fish in a pond.
Cabaltera and her general manager, Chito Soliven like to joke about it. The koi painting stands out for the longtime thrift shop owner.
Remnants—a play on her name—Cabaltera, is a valuable antique store in Cubao X. The store houses all sorts of interesting antiques with unique stories.
This particular painting comes all the way from Japan.
A Japanese ship captain’s wife pawned the painting to her for P 2,000. Her husband, a skipper then, told the crew to take any of the items onboard as keepsakes when the boat was decommissioned in 2000.
Years after selling the painting, the wife approached Cabaltera hoping to get it back. The wife had found a prospective buyer. She said a Japanese artist was supposedly looking for pieces with a similar theme. One was thought to be found in the Philippines. The one with Cabaltera was likely one of them.
However, the original owners never came back for it. Cabaltera has had it ever since. She is loathe to part with it because of its high value. The painting also gained interest in the 20 years or so it has been in her possession.
While she isn’t a superstitious person herself, Cabaltera says her customers have told her the painting is a lucky charm for her shop.
A close second on Cabaltera’s list of favorites can be found at the back of the store. At first glance, the painting looks like sea waves in front of a pink sky. According to Cabaltera, upon closer inspection, one finds that the waves are actually a man’s butt on top of a woman’s knees.
Asked why she prefers to keep the painting, Cabaltera replied, “Nothing specific. It just amuses me.”
Every item has a story
A lot of items have come and gone in the shop’s 22 years of existence. Aside from quality, the items carry interesting backstories that draw collectors to the store. All of the items have one. One even involved fetishes.
Cabaltera recalled one family selling her all of a dead man’s possessions. Much of these were decorations or furniture, but there were also plenty of jars.
A year after buying the jars and selling a few, she was doing some cleaning and came upon them again. When she tried to lift one, it came cleanly apart to reveal several photographs of feet.
The previous owner was a relatively successful hairstylist back in the 1970s with a foot fetish. Whenever he would choose a potential boyfriend, he would always look at their feet and photograph them. Those lucky enough to be chosen had pictures of their feet stored in jars.
Cabaltera quickly disposed of the photos and kept the jars for selling, although she has encountered buyers who weren’t particularly squeamish about these sort of things. “There are people like that. They can handle it,” she said.
Although she has probably heard and seen it all at this point in her career, Cabaltera observed that most of these stories have a common thread. When rich people die, they leave behind large houses and many items. The heirs then go on to sell the items they leave behind.
“Their children, grandchildren, or any of their heirs don’t value he things they left behind,” she said in Filipino.
Pieces of history
Is that observation some portent of doom for the business?
To an extent, Cabaltera says that business has slowed. Recently, there just haven’t been that many customers compared to years past.
Part of this is due to a combination of culture and practicality, she says. As more people move to condominiums, they prefer living light so there’s more selling compared to buying. Besides this, as cheaper goods flood the market, the older, but more high-grade, products become niche items for collectors.
While most shop owners would be disheartened at the news, Cabaltera and Soliven hold some hope.
Part of it is that they have carved out a niche for themselves in curating the items. Although another record store is on the street across from theirs and several nearby shops sell books and other secondhand or novelty items, Cabaltera proudly describes the attention she puts into selecting and appraising her products.
She says, in Filipino, of the process: “We don’t just buy books at random. The books have to be out of print, like Filipiniana, then the books have to be hard to find…The same goes for our records. We choose those that are sellable and are in demand.”
The decorations and glassware undergo a tougher vetting process: each item has to be relatively old and Cabaltera checks for the year of production using a catalogue. These have to be tougher than the cheap kinds, Cabaltera stressed.
Based on the customers they have, it looks like the market still exists. Aside from the regulars—some of whom are hardcore collectors—some people also drop by the store and buy things that strike their fancy.
And these are not just old people. Soliven described one of their youngest regulars: an 11-year-old Beatles fan who gladly buys their records and any other band paraphernalia available as well.
For Cabaltera and Soliven, keeping the trade going is more than just selling items. When young people even come into the store, most ask questions about the items and try out some of them. The people who do this tend to not have only seen antiques like rotary phones on pictures.Visiting the store is their way of experiencing these pieces firsthand, so Remnants bridges that gap for them.
And when all the logistics of business has been settled, seeing people appreciate the pieces and ask about the stories behind them are still the best parts of the job.
Cabaltera explains this further, saying: “When we encounter these types of people, even if they don’t buy anything, as long as they come in to appreciate the stuff, we’re happy. It’s like we can tell ourselves that we weren’t wrong in starting this business, people still like these things.”