Norman Gasko's family has owned the plot on the corner of Main Street and Lenape Road in Mays Landing for generations. In the late 1800s, his family sold flat-bottomed fishing boats for a dime.
Later, his aunt opened up Beach Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, and in the 1970s, Gasko took the reins with Lake Lenape Antiques.
In his more than three decades of running the shop, Gasko can't recall a single time the community treated him with anything but the utmost respect. Except for Oct. 20 of this year, that is.
"I was on my computer, and I see this guy running across the street," Gasko said. "He had parked on my lot. He's waving and everything. I say, 'I'm getting a customer.' I come down, I see this car take off. He's saying, 'She just robbed you, she just robbed you.'"
By the time he got outside, a woman had already made off with the Victorian chair, wooden music stand, and reverse painting on glass he had been showcasing.
Gasko's view of the sidewalk has been obstructed by particle board he erected after the June derecho. Nonetheless, he never imagined someone would have the gall to steal his wares in broad daylight. He contacted the police, but without a license plate number or physical description, the case went nowhere.
He estimates the value of the antique trio at about $270. While the loss amounts to a financial hit, the personal pain, Gasko said, has been much more.
"You feel bad when you get ripped off, especially when you never get ripped off," Gasko said. "My customers are working people. They're families, they come here with their wives, their children, they root around and paw for little treasures. We get no thievery, so when this happens, you feel depressed."
Upset, the following day Gasko replaced his pilfered goods with a simple spray-painted particle board sign that read, "Robbed. Lady in black ford. Victorian Chair. Music Stand. Frame set, etc."
Seeing the sign, a man came in to purchase a painting and paid Gasko about $5 over the purchase price. Another customer came in later and, likewise, overpaid. Others came by to donate goods, among them a crate of lamps and fine flow blue plates and bowls. By the end of the day, Gasko's customers had more than made up for the value of the lost goods.
Gasko's business is a modest one. He works alone, opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m., seven days a week, year-round. To save money, he keeps his space unheated. And while the generosity of his patrons has covered his financial losses and then some, it's the demonstration of the fact the community cares that he found most valuable.
"I was almost - it's hard to say," Gasko said. "I'm emotional. It's emotional that we're thought of so highly."
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