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Jim Amero watches guard over the Watertown square from his shop, Jim’s Antiques, on a corner of Main Street. The Maine native shepherds the town’s twice-a-year mile-long yard sales and also serves as unofficial public relations guru.

KEN BECK / The Wilson Post

Jim Amero peddles antiques as he pitches small-town charms  

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

WATERTOWN -- From his perch behind the big plate glass window on a corner of the Watertown Square, Jim Amero keeps his eyes glued on Main Street.

There are few secrets that elude this czar of the Square. It’s a small world, but it’s been his world for the past 12½ years. His antique store is on Main Street. His house is on Main Street. He’s literally the community’s “Maine” man. 

Raised in Livermore Falls, Maine, Amero (pronounced Am-uh-ro) serves as Watertown’s unofficial ambassador of good will as well as official trail boss of the twice-a-year Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale.

“It didn’t take me long to open my up mouth and be involved into the mix of merchants,” said the antique dealer. “I’ve had a hand in the yard sale ever since I been in town. I‘ve been organizing it for five years. Recently, I signed a contract with the Chamber of Commerce and Historic Watertown to coordinate it for the next few years.”

One thing is for sure, Amero knows his antiques and how to sell them. Among his clients over the years have been Martha Stewart (four pieces of a green, wooden lawn set); Penny Marshall, Laverne of TV’s Laverne and Shirley (a rug); and Lindsey Wagner of The Bionic Woman (jams, jellies and maple syrup).

“I love being my own boss. Plus, you never know who is gonna come in and want what. I have customers come in Cadillacs and Volkswagens, in overalls and suits,” he said.

Watertown for saleThe Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale runs all day Saturday, April 18. Please drive with caution and watch for pedestrians in town and along Highway 70.

Jim’s AntiquesJim Amero’s antique store at 312 Public Square in Watertown is open “eight days a week.” Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. He specializes in primitives, cabin and lodge décor, kitchen collectibles and antique toys. Phone: 237-1777. For more info, go online to www.watertowntn.com/jims.

His shop reflects his yesteryear taste buds. With a wonderful black-and-white checkerboard pattern on its tile floor and a 15-foot-high ceiling, the building served as Joe Scott’s Drugstore and Pharmacy from the 1940s into the ’70s.

Items for sale here include cigar boxes, a flax wheel rocker from Wisconsin, a stroller, books, lanterns, Hot Wheel toy cars, an 1890s Home Comfort Cook Stove, sleds, a big brass chandelier, crock jars, a pie safe, maple syrup sap buckets and birch-bark birdhouses from Bangor, Maine.

“The place has a taste of Maine because I do a lot with decorators and people who own cabins and lodges on the lake where people like to decorate with nautical stuff,” Amero said. “And I like 1950s memorabilia, advertising signs, old toys, old appliances, unusual stuff.”

The New Englander-turned-New Southerner hung his antiques-for-sale shingle out here in 1997 after discovering the tiny town in November 1996.

“I fell in love with Watertown the night I drove in. I was greeted, as I greet everybody now when they come into town, with open arms. That made me feel at home right away after I came down Depot Street and saw the Square,” said Amero, 61.

What was it about this village in southeastern Wilson County that captivated his heart? 

“Just the people,” he answered. “The setup, the atmosphere, the step back in time. It is as it was years ago and is just so people friendly.”

Amero opened his antique shop in his rented house on Main Street. Nine years later his landlord sold him the house, and a corner of the Square came up for lease, an ideal locale for Jim’s Antiques in 2005.

“I bit the bullet and decided to move my shop up here, and that was the best thing I could ever have done,” said the small businessman.

Born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1947, Amero lived in Maine his first 48 years. He comes by his salesmanship and love of old things naturally. His father managed a liquor store for the state and also served as a constable and volunteer fireman.

“We used to go with our dad to dumps on Sundays and target practice on the rats, and we would find old radios and lamps which he would take down to the basement and repair for use at home,” he recollected.

After high school, Amero spent three years in the Army, one of those in Vietnam where he was a mail clerk and drove a truck hauling barbed wire and ammunition in the Demilitarized Zone for two months. After the military, he followed in his older brother’s steps and worked for a few years as an assistant librarian and bookmobile driver.

For 11 years, he drove a route for a fruit and produce company and made telephone sales for a meat company, developing his gift of gab along the way.

Next, he worked in a paper mill, where in March 1986 he nearly lost his life when a forklift tipped over on him. The accident resulted in a long recovery and the loss of his job, but a settlement put him into the antique business. His first shop was in a 10-room farmhouse in Wilton, Maine, a block from Wilson Lake. He named it Smiling Dog Antiques after his mutt hound, Clancy.

Now ensconced in Watertown, where he serves as the freshman member of the City Council and pens a weekly column, “From Jim’s Window,” for the Watertown Gazette, he’s been buying, selling and trading for years. A sign over his door inside reads: Remember ya should have bought it when you saw it!

Twice a year he wades knee deep into the midst of the town’s famous mile-long yard sale, a huge chore for Amero and volunteers, but it brings thousands of bargain hunters, who may cruise all the way from Interstate 40 at Uncle Pete’s Truck Stop to Dowelltown in DeKalb County. They could justifiably change the event’s name to the 30 Mile Long Yard Sale.

Saturday marks the 21st year of the spring sale, whose heart is located along the two miles of Main Street. There should be about 300 vendors set up inside the city limits along with school and church groups and home owners. Items will range from wagon wheels, bicycles and socks to jewelry and high-end antiques, Amero said.

There will be plenty of food vendors with delicacies like Chicago Italian beef subs, roasted corn on the cob, chicken ribs, fudge, fish, funnel cakes and ribbon fries. Added attractions will include camel and pony rides and inflatables for the kids. 

“The sale runs from daybreak Saturday until late Saturday afternoon,” Amero said, but “Friday is known as a good shopping day as well.” He also cautioned folks to drive slowly and watch for pedestrians. There will be designated parking areas, free at the elementary school and along back streets, while townsfolk will offer paid parking places in their yards.

The guy who sells Watertown as much as his own stock, spends his non-working hours at home with Mary Craig, his soul mate of nine years. The couple shares six children, a dozen grandchildren and two great-grandkids.

The two take an annual summer road trip in Amero’s 1996 van from their door to his daughter’s door in Jay, Maine, a 2,800-mile round trip. Along the way he buys and sells antiques. One year he toted a heavy zinc bathtub to a major antique show in Broomfield, Mass., where it sold to a couple from Cookeville. He drove it back to their house.

Amero can be found in his shop every day, where he keeps his radio tuned to local country music radio station WANT. He can tell visitors about meeting Garth Brooks, who made a Dr. Pepper commercial in town, or about shaking hands with Brooks & Dunn when they made a music video here. And be sure to ask him about his close encounter with fellow Mainer, best-selling author Stephen King.

Watertown has no bigger cheerleader than Amero, who is all about promoting local merchants. If he doesn’t bring his lunch to work, he eats at one of the three restaurants on or near the Square: Depot Junction, LuLu’s Coffee House and Mi Ranchito.

“I love living on Main Street and the whole camaraderie of a small-town atmosphere,” Amero said. “Some days I sit on the bench and like to watch what is going on and enjoy the ambience of what a 104-year-old Square has for us. We’ve got what everyone is looking for.”

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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