By ELISSA DEN HOED
It’s like a trip back in time, to a period that is likely well before your time.
Cambridge Nostalgia & Co. is a small store in the Southworks building on Grand Avenue which is stocked wall-to-wall with new ’40s, ’50s and ’60s retro-styled goods. Doug Harding, the owner, is a soft-spoken and reserved but moody man with greying hair and a Gepetto-like moustache. His wife, Laura, teaches in Conestoga College’s visual merchandising program.
Small appliances and retro candy such as Milk Duds, Pez and Laffy Taffy are popular with customers, but the store stocks everything from parking signs to poodle skirts to popcorn machines. For the hardcore retro devotee, Cambridge Nostalgia offers a full line of ’50s-style Northstar kitchen appliances, which are Energy Star rated and made in Canada. Most of the store’s products are sourced from North American companies.
Some of the store’s most impressive items are its four models of CD jukeboxes, which have the same look and quality as their antique vinyl-playing counterparts. One model holds 100 CDs at a time. At prices upwards of $7,000 (the Harley-Davidson model costs $1,000 more than the others because it’s licensed), it’s no wonder Harding doesn’t sell many a year. Most of the ones he does sell are to restaurants.
Cambridge Nostalgia has competition in big box stores that sell retro goods, such as HomeSense, but edges them out in price. “If I can’t beat the big box stores (on an item), I won’t sell it,” Harding said.
Harding believes he can sell anything as long as it’s good quality and reasonably priced. To prove this, he once offered an authentic dinosaur skeleton – a small one that museums weren’t interested in – for sale. “It’s the one thing I sold,” he added, “that I wish I hadn’t.”
Harding also owns Southworks Antiques. He started Cambridge Nostalgia & Co., now in its 11th year, to satisfy the customers who had a passion for retro design but wanted items that were fully functional and repairable – in other words, new.
Though a much smaller store than Southworks Antiques, Cambridge Nostalgia has more traffic per square foot.
Part-way through the interview, Harding’s cellphone rings.
The phone he extracts from his pocket is shiny, black and modern, but the ringtone, fittingly, is of an old-fashioned telephone.
In true retro fashion, Harding said he isn’t a big fan of social media, and that he still prefers a physical book to an e-reader.
Picking up a catalogue, he explained, “I can flip through this catalogue a lot faster than I can go through an e-reader.”
Harding manufactures some of his own merchandise, and is working on a rocketship coffee table. He also does custom work and ships worldwide thanks to an online catalogue.
Harding said the farthest he’s sold in Canada was to the Yukon Territory, and that he has more sales success in Muskoka cottage country than he does at home in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.
Many of his items are rentable, and some have been used as props in plays, including on Princess Cruise Lines’ ships.
Harding accepts items for repairs and sells parts for do-it-yourselfers.
Harding would like you to visit soon. Just be sure to catch him on a good day.
“I shouldn’t be in retail,” he said. “I used to have a sign outside that said, ‘Forget the dog; beware of owner!’”