TAMPA — A group of women – with support from a couple of husbands – spend nearly a year working at a warehouse with no air conditioning or heat.
But they say the commitment is well worth it when they see another window replaced at the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, now known as Plant Hall at the University of Tampa.
They also see hundreds of shoppers finding bargains each year at the annual Chiselers Market. This year’s, the 51st, is set for March 15 at the university.
The Chiselers organization is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the historical structure, with hundreds of thousands of dollars donated each year.
The major project is replacing each of the 1,069 windows in the building at a cost of $2,800 per window, said Chiselers Market chairwoman Peggy Gill.
“You don’t run to Home Depot to get a cheapie window to replace it,” Gill said, adding each has to be done to historical standards.
The women, members and provisionals (those in their first year), sort items every Thursday in a warehouse off Willow Avenue. Two husbands come along each week to test electronics.
“It really is a whole year’s work. We started last May and it is two extremes in here,” Gill said.
Each week donations arrive for sorting and boxing, with boxes moved the week of the sale to the university. There is furniture, jewelry, household items, collectibles, designer clothing and more.
“People know about us; we have a pickup chairman who goes and gets stuff and they come here to drop off stuff,” said Jan Ely, public relations chairwoman for the organization.
And just as the donors know, so do the shoppers who descend on the sale — and the preview party the night before.
“We have customers who come just for one thing and we have some who stock up on linens or glassware,” Ely said. “Some people like collectible items and some really need items for use in their home.”
Casey Cathey has helped prepare the furniture for sale. She said it will be on the west veranda and it needs to be taken home that day by the buyer.
“We have beautiful, hand-carved sofas going between $50 and $350,” she said. “We have more rugs than ever and two hidden home office dividers, which sell for $1,500 or more in the store, will go for $200.”
In addition, this year there is a lot of china, silver and crystal for sale.
“We have a wonderful collection; more than that we have ever had,” said Susanne Cleckler, who was wrapping some items on a recent workday.
In addition, there is a silent auction of items culled from the donations as well as gift certificates and baskets from local businesses.
Virginia Mullins helped sort collectibles and pulled some for the silent auction and organized the rest for the collectibles department.
“We look for beauty, rarity and whatever the thing will bring,” Mullins said. “Age has something to do with it — and history. Most of the things you don’t see in stores anymore.”