It’s a flashback to the Victorian era – or perhaps a scene out of Harry Potter. A tiny and quaint village shop brims with gleaming brass and cooper. Gothic letters on an old wooden sign read: Adams Fireplace Shop. It’s the last place you’d expect to find near Cambridge’s Fresh Pond rotary, in the middle of a busy commercial district filled with big-box stores, gas stations and doughnut shops. But over a half a century ago, this third-generation family store was on farmland near the railroad tracks, selling coal, kindling, and firewood. Today, the shop — just 13 feet wide by 150 feet long — holds $3.5 million worth of antique fireplace equipment, including 500 pairs of andirons, 400 antique fenders, and 200 tool sets. The inventory extends into a barn and 12 sheds behind it. “It’s a humble storefront. People think it’s going to be a junk shop, but it’s is an optical illusion, ” says longtime proprietor Donald Adamian. The Globe spoke with Adamian to find out how he keeps the hearth burning year round.
“When I was a young boy, I went to prep school on Brattle Street next to Longfellow House. Afterward, I’d sit at home in a rocking chair and read Colonial Homes magazine. I’d dream about open hearths and fireplaces and creating coziness in people’s homes. My family ran a coal yard at the time, and I sold firewood to Harvard students who would come in their little VW Bugs and buy a cord for $3.50 to warm their dorm rooms. They’d ask if we sold fireplace equipment, and it was my idea to start selling tongs, shovels, pokers, and other tools. My dad took me to a yard sale where I picked up a pair of antique andirons and screens. I polished and sold them, and that’s how I got into selling antiques.
“Over the years, our stock grew to an ever-widening variety, including vintage lighting. Some of the pieces have been here 30 to 40 years, just waiting to be discovered by the right person. Almost everyone comes in here first for fireplace screens, but then they start to see the firewood racks and carriers, bellows, andirons, grates, and fenders, and it creates a desire for all the beautiful things. Even with gas and electric units, homeowners will still purchase andirons and fenders to give the illusion of real wood-burning fireplaces. But there are still many traditionalists who want to live like the old days and insist on wood-burning, purchasing polished brass accoutrements, even though the trend is toward satin nickel or oil-polished bronze.
“We still sell firewood, of course — it was a mild winter last season, so I sold just 4,000 bundles, but two years ago, during the harsh winter, it was 11,000. Our firewood comes 12 pallets at a time, 630 bundles, from Whitinsville in central Massachusetts, all shrink wrapped with a handle, so it makes it easy to carry.
Overall, business has dropped in the last two years. Everyone’s buying on the Internet and they don’t even think of going into a retail store anymore. Boston isn’t big enough of a market now, so we’ve photographed hundreds of products on red velvet to put online, adding onto the over 760 items already on website.
“Even my cat, Buddy, who was a fixture here for the last 20 years, has passed away. I’m 62 now, and have had five husbands, but no children, so I’m not sure of the future of this store. But I’ve fulfilled my dream of bringing warmth into people’s homes.”