Wineka column: Step in Time owners stepping down

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2011

SALISBURY — It seems as though Joe Lancione and Tom Wolpert have been here longer than 10 years.
Maybe because they’re easy to talk with, and the conversations can cover sports as readily as the arts.
Maybe because their shop, A Step in Time, was easy to stop into and always interesting, from visiting with Eight, the shop cat, to asking about the goldfish in the bathtub.
Maybe because they immediately became involved in the community.
The guys did Christmas with style, and they often made themselves and the store hosts for musicians, artists, dealers, welcome parties and sendoffs for friends going elsewhere.
As the first and only business along a reborn Easy Street, A Step in Time also found itself part of events at the Waterworks Visual Arts Center, the F&M Trolley Barn and brick-paved Easy Street itself.
The annual Art on Easy Street grew out of Wolpert’s time on the Rowan Arts Council board.
The Boston transplants settled in Salisbury in 2001, opened their antiques and collectibles shop on Main Street, then seven years ago relocated A Step in Time to Easy Street, where they nestled into the bottom of a handsomely restored livery stable.
And here’s where all the shop shenanigans took place apparently.
But for the simple reason that they are getting older, Lancione and Wolpert have decided to close A Step in Time. Wolpert, 73, says they are shooting for a closing of Oct. 14 and hope that nothing is left in the store but the furnishings by the end of the month.
They’ve been calling their last few weeks a “Thanks for the Memories” retirement sale.
“It’s going to be emotional for me,” says 70-year-old Lancione.
Wolpert says the first question everybody asks the pair is, will they continue to live here. The answer is, yes, of course. “We love Salisbury — that’s non-negotiable,” Lancione says.
“The 10 years we have been here have meant a lot.”
One of the more rewarding things for Lancione and Wolpert is that their shop became a mini-institution, a clearinghouse for news and a place where a wide cross-section of Salisbury was entertained.
“It’s been fun,” Wolpert says. “We’ve entertained all types of people here.”
Architect Karen Alexander restored the building in which A Step in Time does business. “They finished my dream for that space,” she says, adding Lancione and Wolpert brought a human aspect, a welcome-home type of feeling to the Easy Street location that her restoration alone could not provide.
Karen and her husband, Henry, became fast friends with the shop owners. Karen Alexander calls them her “newspaper rock.” Once on a trip to eastern Utah, the Alexanders came upon the Newspaper Rock National Historical Site, where Indian cultures from 2,000 years ago etched into sandstone many petroglyphs.
What the messages on the rock mean are unclear, but it’s obvious that the rock carvings were a newspaper of sorts — a way of communicating in the desert.
“I said to Henry, ‘That’s what they are, they’re my newspaper rock,’ ” Karen Alexander recalls, recognizing that she heard much of her news by stopping in to see Lancione and Wolpert.
The shop owners have high praise for Alexander and Paul Fisher, chairman of F&M Bank. Much of the F&M Financial Center’s operation seems to encase Easy Street, but Lancione and Wolpert say the bank is the best of neighbors, along with Waterworks Visual Arts Center.
Last week, Fisher and F&M held a reception in honor of Lancione and Wolpert in the bank’s Charleston garden, next to A Step in Time,
“We knew when these fellas came they were crazy, but we adopted them anyway,” Fisher says. “… They kept the street alive.”
Fisher remembers finding out the men were from Boston but, in particular, from South Boston, which maybe made them Southerners at heart.
“It seems like they’ve been here forever and were Southerners all the time — and didn’t know it,” Fisher says.
Irene Beyer, an employee at Waterworks, says she discovered after talking with Lancione that they once lived only a town removed from each other in Massachusetts.
‘They’re both really great people,” says Beyer, who has been known to congregate on the guys’ West Council Street porch only a few blocks away.
F&M president Steve Fisher, a former president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., says the men proved “we could do a different level of retail in this town.”
Through the annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters activities in Salisbury, Lancione and Wolpert became friends with CBS sports announcer Jim Nantz, who they have entertained at the shop four times.
Lantz gave them an iconic flag from one of the holes at the Masters and signed it, “To Joe and Tom, A Step in Time, Like No Other.”
A Step in Time featured unique items from around the world. Early on, when Wolpert was teaching graduate courses in American schools abroad, he combined those trips with buying missions, scouting out local artists in places such as Bolivia, Thailand and Panama.
Later, when Wolpert stopped traveling out of the country, they collected much of their merchandise at spring shopping trips to Atlanta.
Wolpert also immersed himself in community activities such as the hospital’s Patrons Ball, the Community Appearance Commission, Farmers Market, the Arts Council and Symphony Guild, for which he is now president.
They usually closed the store for two days to prepare for Christmas. Their Christmas selling season started on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Wolpert says they just were not up for all the Christmas preparations this year.
“Either we went through the Christmas season or we didn’t,” he says.
A Step in Time worked because it became a destination, the owners say, and that will have to be the secret for whatever business follows.
And as a destination spot, “the location is unbelievable,” Wolpert adds. “A park is not this nice.”
It made it a perfect place for events.
Lancione and Wolpert just made it a perfect place period.
Even criminals couldn’t steal from the store without regret.
Years back, someone took a carved, wooden giraffe that greeted A Step in Time customers out front.
Several days later, the owners arrived at the shop in the morning to find the giraffe returned, with a note.
“Found the giraffe walking down the tracks,” it said. “Please feed him more so he won’t run away again.”
There was something for the newspaper rock.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or