Tons of toilets, dozens of sinks and tons of light fixtures.
This is only part of what Bryan “Mac” McIntire has accumulated in his Mac the Antique Plumber store for nearly 40 years in Sacramento.
At the end of the summer, the huge collection of plumbing equipment, lighting supplies, hardware and home accessories must be moved or sold.
McIntire, the second generation owner / operator of the sprawling 9,000+ sq. Ft. Business at 6325 Elvas Ave. El Dorado County.
Before the end of the year, he plans to become a fully online business.
It’s a big decision for McIntire, 67, who loves old plumbing fixtures and is moving out of a building he bought almost a quarter of a century ago.
“To tell you the truth, it’s getting harder and harder to be in the retail business and keep (the store) going with all the expenses – payroll, construction payments, workers’ compensation, insurance,” he said. McIntire said. “And yes, it would be nice to have a little more free time to do some of the things that I love to do.”
McIntire says he has a potential buyer for his building and is in the process of selling goods that will not be transported to El Dorado County. There, McIntire says he plans to build a warehouse in Somerset, perhaps 3,750 square feet with room to add.
He might need some extra space. The showroom at Elvas Avenue store is clean and thoughtfully appointed, with gleaming modern and antique items on display from floor to ceiling.
Merchandise includes clawfoot tubs, tall tank and pillbox toilets, meticulously restored Victorian-era sinks, ornate chandeliers, lamps and hundreds of accessories. The showroom showcases some of McIntire’s handiwork, including pieces that have undergone polishing, plating, glass beading, lacquering and finishing. Custom-designed sinks are also part of the mix.
It’s a mind-boggling display. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The doors to the rear of the main exhibition hall are the first entry ports in a seemingly endless maze of stacked rooms with toilets, tubs, sinks, hardware, and work rooms (for finishing, fabrication, repairs and more). Drawers of antique door handles, faucet hardware, clawfoot tub legs, brass fixtures and specialty tools can be found in every corner.
Oh, and there are the two drum sets that McIntire occasionally discovers to hammer, the better to relieve stress and enjoy his lifelong love of music.
A trip to the back of the property reveals a sea of even more tubs, sinks and toilets.
“Yeah, I know it’s a lot. I’ll move them or sell things or both, ”McIntire said with a small laugh and a nod. “The transition is going to be difficult.
McIntire has help, which includes his wife and always efficient accountant, Suzanne; his son, Jesse; and his employee and friend for almost 30 years, Ken Boucher.
In the 1990s, the store employed more than a dozen people, but McIntire explained that growing competition from online sellers and large retailers has made sledding difficult in recent years.
“We have good, long-time loyal customers who come in, but it can take a long time between visits,” McIntire explained.
Customers include those who are restoring older homes or converting their contemporary homes to include older fixtures. Operators of hotels and other accommodation are also turning to McIntire for hard-to-find fixtures and antique plumbing and lighting items.
McIntire said what he will miss the most once the move is complete is “the meeting and welcoming part, all the people we have met and known over the years. … Part of me is sad to see this happen.
McIntire acknowledged that some of those bittersweet feelings are tied to closing a chapter on family history.
Bryan’s father, Leon “Mac” McIntire arrived in Sacramento in 1961, working as a regional representative for manufacturers of plumbing products.
Years later, Leon McIntire decided to open his own plumbing hardware store, some of which were of his own design. He’s also done reproductions, upgrades and restorations of equipment, doing it all in his garage. Air bases and school systems have become regular customers. The same goes for people looking for unique items to outfit their home.
Eventually, the need for more space prompted Leon McIntire to open his first Mac the Antique Plumber store in 1979 on 57th Street, where the current 57th Street and Antique Design Center is now located. This is where Bryan McIntire learned the ropes.
Suzanne McIntire recalled that the father and son were known as “Big Mac” and “Little Mac”.
Leon McIntire died in 1987, leaving his son Bryan to continue the family business. In 1993, McIntire purchased the building on the current site of Elvas Avenue. Besides sales and shipping, his work in the industry includes two patents, including one for a uniquely-looking toilet with a round water tank.
McIntire says the long-term future of his business largely depends on how deeply his son Jesse wants to immerse himself in it. Bryan McIntire rolls his eyes at the thought of moving tons of inventory over the next few months, but says he’s “willing to deal” with customers who want to buy items for sale.
Along that line, he said he was planning a big garage sale. A “mobile sale” currently underway includes a wide range of merchandise at a discount of 15% to 75%.
McIntire says the current operation has customers “across the country … and around the world,” and he hopes those buyers will continue to view his inventory online, perhaps attracting new customers in the process. McIntire also insists that many of its plumbing products are superior to what shoppers find in branded retail stores.
McIntire’s upcoming shift to a fully web-based business model is a microcosm of what has happened to major retailers nationwide in recent years. Heavyweights like Sears, Kmart, and even Wal-Mart have scaled back their physical operations amid intense online competition from major players like Amazon.com.
Retail ghosts of recent years include Borders Group, which once operated hundreds of stores with books and music, but went out of business in 2011. Most recently, the sporting goods chain Sports Authority announced the closure of its stores against a backdrop of plummeting finances.
“Running a brick-and-mortar plumbing and home furnishings store in these times is almost ‘Mission: Impossible.’ Said Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert. “Not only do you compete with the big home improvement chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, but you also have many sites online that allow consumers to focus on their specific needs.
“I hope the long-time Sacramento business has a well-established group of loyal customers, and from their website it appears they have unique products for specialty buyers.”
Besides the two antique and modern plumbing websites, you can get more information about Mac the Antique Plumber by calling 916-454-4507.