Changing times, pandemic hustle Eau Claire’s Antique Emporium into antiquity

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WKBT) — The Antique Emporium in Eau Claire will become an antique of sorts itself soon, when owners Hugh and Marcella Passow sell it to Eau Claire’s Pablo Group.

The Passows have operated the eclectic business at 306 Main St., which boasts a museum ambience with more than 100,000 items, for more than 36 years. The couple had been mulling selling for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed their decision, Hugh said.

“We don’t really want to quit,” Hugh said. “But I’m 69 years old, and the world has changed. The antique business is not like it used to be. Everything is online now, and I can’t run out to an auction and buy big lots to haul back and poke through like we used to.”

Hugh is considering continuing operations on a smaller scale at another location and plans to boost his online retail presence.

The three-story structure was constructed in 1899 as a Masonic lodge and has been home to The Antique Emporium since 1985. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has housed many other businesses, including the Kelly Furniture Co., The Eau Claire School of Dance and The Main Street Deli.

Hugh observed that he always liked the idea a deli-style restaurant in the building but is confident in the Pablo Group and its vision for the building.

“When I knew it was time to move on, Pablo Group was the first group I thought of because I’ve seen the good things they’ve been doing in and for downtown Eau Claire,” Hugh said.

An inventory sale is to begin immediately, with many items being sold at discounts. Through the holiday season, store will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Assorted items are also available for purchase through the online retail platforms eBay and AbeBooks.

Pablo Group co-founder Julia Johnson expressed mixed feelings about the transition.
“We have found a lot of treasures at the Antique Emporium over the years, including the tip jar at ECDC,” Johnson said. “It will be sad to see Hugh and his business leave the building, and we hope the building’s next use will be beloved as well.”

The Pablo Group will renovate and update the building, while while preserving its historical integrity. CoLab, downtown Eau Claire’s co-working space, will relocate to the building when renovations are completed, according to the group.

Johnson, Zach Halmstad and Jason Wudi founded the Pablo Group in 2013. Its mission is to improve the experiences and opportunities Eau Claire. Its projects have included renovating The Lismore and The Oxbow hotels and operating Racy d’Lene’s Coffee Shop, Nucleus Cafe, Firehouse Bar and CoLab, as well as downtown housing and commercial real estate.

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