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Blackbird House Turns Hobby into Business

Blackbird House Antiques and Stuff offers a sense of community and history from its walls to its shelves.

Jo Ann Desper and her husband Philip may have fulltime jobs, but on Fridays and Saturdays Jo Ann opens the doors of Blackbird House Antiques and Stuff, a store that buys and sells selection of furniture, books, linens, home decor items and unique and vintage objects and host a monthly flea market once a month in the summer.

The Despers began their foray with Blackbird House not immediately as a business, but as a building preservation project.

The building at 7953 Ridge Ave. in Roxborough has local historical significance; it was built around 1811, made from Wissahickon stone and is one of the last of its kind in the area. Many of these other buildings were torn down in the ’70s and ’80s. A deed research showed the Despers that their property was originally owned by a stockingmaker.

Jo Ann is the Vice President of the Roxborough Development Corporation and has a vested interested in the local flavor of Roxborough. After buying the building, she and her husband asked, “Now what should we do with it?” She has an active role in building the community through economic development and after seeing the types of business coming into the area, decided an antiques and vintage store was uncommon and would do well in the area.

“We’re a true Roxborough store,” Desper said.

The couple doesn’t sell high-end antiques like some stores, but rather useful items geared toward people in this community.

Blackbird House, named for the large number of blackbirds that frequent the black walnut tree on the property, has been open for about a year now. Desper is pleased with the reception the store has had so far. She sees a lot of repeat customers, and the summer monthly flea markets touted a good turnout with both local vendors and customers.

The flea markets are often advertised as a “vintage flea market,” to discourage the inclusion of yard-sale items and focus on antique clothes, jewelry and artifacts. Blackbird House will have a sale in the store during the flea market.

Buddy the Cat is just one more reason to stop by and visit Blackbird House. Buddy lives in the store and has a talkative, affectionate nature. “He shows people around when they come to the store,” Desper said.

Desper goes to house sales, flea markets and thrift stores to find the objects that fill her shelves. She buys directly from customers directly as well, and sells their goods on consignment or buys them outright for resale.

“It’s a hobby, but it’s so much fun,” said Desper, who hopes to expand the store’s hours with her husband in the future as their retirement business. She likes talking about the history of the items and the thrill of the search.

Her biggest surprise purchase and sale was a beautifully carved pre dieu kneeler from a church that she found at a flea market. It was such an unusual item that she thought the kneeler would inhabit the store for years. “I needed to find that one special buyer that was interested in a Roman Catholic item,” she said.

But soon after the purchase a woman came in whose husband was looking specifically for one kneeler.

“You never know who’s going to walk through the door,” Desper said.

Blackbird House Antiques and Stuff is located at 7953 Ridge Ave. In Roxborough and open on Friday and Saturday from 11am-5pm. For more information, call267-257-1500. Stop by to see the antiques, and come visit Buddy.

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