Back In Time transforms basements into swingin' diners

June 17, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - G.W. Smith helps his clients live in the past.

The idea for Smith's business, Back In Time, was sparked when he was sitting in a restaurant made up like a 1950s diner during a business dinner a few years ago. A song came over the jukebox that stirred memories from his teenage years, when he walked on an ocean boardwalk and life was good.

"I realized then you can take decorations and music and create a back-in-time vacation," said Smith, 50, of Charles Town.

Smith bought an old diner booth, a jukebox and an old Coca-Cola bottle machine and in 1989, turned his back porch into a mini replica of a diner. He put old records on the jukebox and when friends came to visit, he'd let them play the music.

"I could just watch their faces light up," Smith said.

"I started doing a lot of business on my back porch," Smith said. "Friends and neighbors wanted to buy stuff."


In 1992, he sold the encyclopedia company he owned and went into business selling soda machines from the 1950s and 1960s, old soda advertisement signs, jukeboxes, and custom-made dining booths and bar stools.

"I had been working 16-hour days, seven days a week and I decided I wanted to do this instead. My agenda changed," Smith said.

"I haven't worn a suit in a year. I don't blow-dry my hair. I come to work dressed like this," he said, pointing to his shorts and short-sleeved shirt.

He opened a shop in Falls Church, Va., and then another at the Antique Station in Frederick, Md.

About six months ago, he moved his items from a storage warehouse in Reston, Va., to a shop at 132 W. Washington St. in Charles Town because it was cheaper. He opens the Charles Town shop by appointment and on most Saturdays.

About a year after he started his business, an interior designer came to him with a dilemma.

The upper floors of a model home in Washington, D.C., were decorated by a professional, but the basement was empty. The designer asked Smith if he could decorate it with items from his Falls Church shop.

Smith said he was given 24 hours to work. He turned the basement into a theater room, complete with original movie posters, an old dressing table and mirror from a Broadway theater, and a set of cinema seats.

Since then, part of his business has been designing recreation rooms for real estate agents selling model homes, as well as other clients.

One client wanted to make sure his teenage children had a safe place to hang out, so he asked Smith to turn the basement into a 1950s diner with nearly a dozen booths and Formica tables, a lunch counter, dance floor and jukebox.

Smith said he has a network of buyers across the country who look out for items he might be interested in, such as old milkshake mixers, advertising signs and tabletop games.

About a year ago, when he was at his Falls Church shop, a man stopped by and asked if he was interested in buying psychedelic posters from 1970. The posters had been in the attic of the man's house for years, where a previous owner stored them.

The new owner of the house planned to haul them to the dump, then decided to sell them.

The posters have become popular with former hippies.

"You can always find something that brings back memories," Smith said.

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