A Business Built from Rotary – Rambling River Antiques
by RONA MANN
Ruth DeSarbo is many things to many people. She’s a wife, a mother, an established resident of Westbrook. And she is also a proud member of the Rotary Club of Madison, having been so for more than a quarter century. For the uninitiated, Rotary is a worldwide organization of men and women more than 1.2 million strong whose mantra is “Service Above Self.” That’s not just a slogan; it’s the way they operate, working tirelessly to serve their community, their country, and the people of the world.
Early on, Rotarians are taught the 4-Way Test which is a way of measuring all that one thinks, says, or does. The 4-Way Test asks:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Is it beneficial to all concerned?
Throughout the world Rotarians are expected to live this not only through their individual Rotary clubs, but in their daily lives. So it was natural for Rotarian Ruth DeSarbo to become a local business owner in the community she so loves and serves and to incorporate her Rotary values in the way she runs that business and deals with people.
“I always wanted my own shop,” says DeSarbo brightly. “I spent over 30 years working for the Shoreline Times, and when I left I felt I wanted to do something here.”
She had always loved antiques, fueled by managing four antique shows a year for the local Chamber of Commerce and the Madison Rotary Club. “I started by taking a small space in a shop in Saybrook. My rent was only $100. a month. Now I have over 7400 square feet…that’s quite a leap!” she laughed. But DeSarbo is very resilient and doesn’t leap lightly, nor without knowing what she’s doing. For a while she and her husband owned a home in Florida where she had also opened an antiques shop, making sure she first took a course to learn the basics. But Ruth readily admits, “In this business you’re always learning. The antiques business is on-the-job training.”
Ruth DeSarbo is a woman of many talents and interests, but after meeting her, one quickly realizes she is a woman fulfilled. A visit to Rambling River Antiques will always find her front and center, ready to greet the visitor or dealer with a smile. Perhaps you might also encounter her canine office mate,”Sebie,” the serendipitous result of a Great Pyrenees falling in love with a Keeshond, producing a perfectly affable and perfectly large dog. Loving the antiques business right along with Ruth are Susan Clark and Elizabeth Sanford who help make Rambling River what it is.
If you were to ask ten different antique dealers what was the most important thing to do to make a living selling antiques, no doubt you would get ten different answers. For Ruth, it’s simple. “You have to be diversified; buying and selling antiques today is not like it was years ago.”
So with true businesswoman’s acumen, DeSarbo knows how to buy because she’s buying for a clientele she knows well. And she is careful to have the best dealers in her shop… those with fair prices and clean, well displayed merchandise in perfect shape.
In the three years Ruth has owned Rambling River Antiques, she has achieved notoriety because of her diversified and ever-changing inventory, two measures of success in the antiques business. If you’ve never been to Rambling River Antiques it is recommended you spend some real time, taking a tour of all 7400 square feet, going back to favorite nooks and corners, becoming familiar with the proclivities of certain dealers. Ruth is happy to direct you if you are looking for a specific category or item, but the true fun in the art of “antiquing” is the exploration and the joy of finding hidden treasures yourself.
We do not have enough ink to detail everything, but just for starters here’s but a smattering of what’s waiting in-store for you at Rambling River Antiques, which DeSarbo says is really Rambling River Antiques, Decorator Accessories, and Home Decor. There’s jewelry everywhere! From vintage to dealer handmade pieces, there are earrings and brooches and necklaces and bracelets to compliment any outfit or to make a special gift for a special person. One dealer presents a complete display of Wade Whimsies animals, so very popular in the past. A marionette hangs seductively from the ceiling, it’s dangling limbs fairly motioning you to look at those colorful, collectible Pyrex bowls you probably haven’t seen since Grandma’s kitchen. The Amish and their practicality are well represented with soy candles, potpourri, and magnificent 34 inch fireside candles. There’s a large display of 100% all natural Bee Happy products locally derived from Clinton, and over there are Oriental vases, an old fashioned and still functioning coffee grinder, and a host of antique clocks.
If your interest is vintage clothing, there’s plenty of it, complete with a large display of hats, perfect to finish off an outfit or wear to the Kentucky Derby this spring! Rambling River hasn’t forgotten the kids, as one dealer features an entire display of puzzles and children’s books. And there’s pewter, lamp oil, and an old stroller fashioned of wicker dating back to the 1800s. Finish appointing the nursery with an old highchair and crib, both in perfect condition. You cannot possibly miss the painted carousel horses, each with its own history; one even came from the Carousel Museum in Bristol and is over 100 years old. If you collect postcards, you may not find a larger selection anywhere, perfectly indexed by country, city, or subject matter. That’s the kind of detail Ruth puts into her shop…and you won’t find a speck of dust anywhere either!
DeSarbo herself is well represented here with a full line of candles and furniture…it’s her passion and runs the gamut from the traditional to the unique and not- often- seen. She is most proud of a mahogany fold down desk with shelving and bookcases. “I’ve never seen a piece like this before.” And make sure she shows you the antique fainting couch used by Victorian ladies to snare a man and the courting bench, designed so that the two sexes would not get too close to one another.
Upstairs in yet another massive area, Ruth boasts the largest display of dealer supplies on the shoreline. There are cases, cleaners, bags, labels, hanging wire, display materials…”whatever they need,” the owner says proudly.
The store itself deals in antiques, but its owner learned more than 25 years ago through Rotary that her most important product is truth, fairness, goodwill, and better friendships.
All the rest takes care of itself.
Rambling River Antiques is located at 172 Boston Post Road in Westbrook and is open every day but Tuesday from 10AM-5PM (860) 664-9270