Hardware store owner finds furs, suits from 1970s in vault

Sunday, December 30, 2007

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. -- Sam Haskins didn't ask for a fur coat for Christmas. But he got six of them.

Haskins, the new owner of a hardware store, made an unexpected discovery early this month when he started poking around the basement: a climate-controlled vault containing six fur coats, about a dozen suits and some dresses and hats, apparently untouched since the late 1970s.

"The fans were spinning and the furs were spotless," said Haskins. "Everything inside was very nice and clean. The fan was set on 65 degrees and that is exactly what the thermometer read. Everyone wants to know who has been paying the electricity bill."

Haskins, 56, bought J&H Hardware in May and the building -- a three-story structure on the village square -- in September. In surveying the basement, he figured there might be usable space hidden behind a wall that had hinges on it.

With son Jeremy Haskins, 27, he rented an electric hammer and then a jackhammer and eventually bored through 18 inches of brick and mortar, four inches of wallboard and then a cement wall to find the room once used by Royal Furriers, a business that closed in the late 1970s.

Haskins said he had no idea what the coats are worth, but planned to have them appraised.

It was unclear whether anyone could step forward to claim a long-lost coat -- or whether anyone who did would be on the hook for 30 years of storage fees.

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