EXETER — As Keith Lemerise winds a pristine 1917 Victor Victrola Talking Machine, the nursery rhyme “I’m A Little Teapot” starts to play.
The tune was crisp and melodious and nobody would have guessed it came from a century-old record player.
Lemerise is bringing treasures like that and those of other antique dealers to his new store Water Street Marketplace. He’s also providing a space for artists in an underground art gallery at the location called “Windows on Water.”
“There’s a lot of thrift stores…some are vintage, and some are higher-end antiques,” said Lemerise, who owns Trends Gift Gallery and The Wine Loft next door with his wife, Kathy. “This is a blend of all that.”
The store at 81 Water Street is opening June 15, taking over the former RE/MAX real estate office. Items for sale include a 1939 handmade cedarwood storage trunk, an uncashed $100 check from 1868, and a “punch-in” clock from the late-1800s.
This marketplace sells pieces of history and stories of the past.
Water Street Marketplace: A place for dealers and buyers
Within the 2,200-square-foot layout, Lemerise said he plans to rent out spaces to other antique dealers. Each seller would have their own space, with dividers made from repurposed wooden doors.
“We’ll have items on the display window at all times,” he explained. “We’re going to rotate items with everybody here to give everybody a turn.”
The open space also features a solid metal built-in vault that Lemerise is dubbing the “Retro Vault.” The building, he said, used to be a jewelry store decades ago and the vault was used to store valuable merchandise.
“I might do themes in here… it could be old electronics and turntables and cameras…all fun stuff.”
Behind the main space are more decorations such as a Marcello Dudovich Vermouth Bianco Martini and Rossi Art poster, complete with a 1950s frame; a poster of Grace Kelly’s L’Instant Taittinger, an iconic champagne ad in the 1980s; and a section for fine China, kitchen appliances, and collectible dishes.
“It’s called kitchenalia,” he said, referring to the section. “It’s like paraphernalia but for kitchen items.”
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‘Windows on Water’ underground art gallery
And when visitors finish browsing the store, a gray painted stairwell will lead them downstairs to an underground art gallery. He’s calling it “Windows on Water,” because it overlooks the Exeter River and it’s located on Water Street.
“I really want to blend in the art (gallery) because there are really nice galleries in town right now,” said Lemerise. “This will be a nice complement to the art gallery – I also have a lot of artists wanting to come to Exeter.”
The 600-square-feet of prime space next to Exeter River he said, will give visitors a Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard-like experience, which are well-known for its art galleries by the sea, among others.
Similar to the marketplace upstairs, Lemerise said artists can rent the space to showcase their work.
“We should be able to feature the artwork of probably 20 artists down there, along with craftsmen (that make) metal sculptures, ceramic and things like that,” said Lemerise.
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Water Street Marketplace: A passion project for Lemerise
Lemerise has spent most of his life in the retail business. His first venture in 1984 was a Hampton Beach “sunglasses and suntan lotion stand.” Two years later, he moved to Exeter and renamed the business Trends Gift Gallery, offering more than just beach essentials.
“I’ve had the retail bug for a while,” he said.
When Kathy took over the day-to-day operations of Trends Gift Gallery, Lemerise turned to publishing. He successfully started Home and Garden magazine and Taste of Seacoast, a wine and dining magazine.
However, he said this is a business of passion.
“I’ve always collected vintage and antique items and resell them a little bit over the years,” said Lemerise. “I have a booth myself over in Kingston and after doing that, I really wanted to put one in downtown Exeter.”
Water Street Marketplace will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays) and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.