An Impresario Builds a Business Selling Old Phones

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When Don Woodbury opened a cellphone store in 2001, he included a few old phones as part of the décor, reflecting the historic district where the business was located.
Soon customers were asking to purchase the vintage models. “They’d just come up to me and say, ‘I want one of those.’ It didn’t take me long to realize that there was a good internet market for this stuff,” Mr. Woodbury says.
Some 16 years later, Oldphoneworks.com, based in Kingston, Ontario, has grown to become one of the biggest sellers of antique phones, whether it’s the “candlestick” style familiar from old films and TV shows or the clunky desk models that were fixtures at grandma’s house.
Mr. Woodbury’s base is a small but loyal group of collectors with a taste for nostalgia, along with a handful of people looking to buy old models in bulk, such as movie producers trying to conjure up the past and hotel moguls looking to add a touch of uniqueness to rooms.
When Don Woodbury opened a cellphone store in 2001, he included a few old phones as part of the décor, reflecting the historic district where the business was located.

Soon customers were asking to purchase the vintage models. “They’d just come up to me and say, ‘I want one of those.’ It didn’t take me long to realize that there was a good internet market for this stuff,” Mr. Woodbury says.

Some 16 years later, Oldphoneworks.com, based in Kingston, Ontario, has grown to become one of the biggest sellers of antique phones, whether it’s the “candlestick” style familiar from old films and TV shows or the clunky desk models that were fixtures at grandma’s house.

Mr. Woodbury’s base is a small but loyal group of collectors with a taste for nostalgia, along with a handful of people looking to buy old models in bulk, such as movie producers trying to conjure up the past and hotel moguls looking to add a touch of uniqueness to rooms.
“It’s kind of amazing that we’ve been able to create a viable business from repurposing and redeploying obsolete technology that would otherwise end up in the trash,” says the 59-year-old Mr. Woodbury, who sold his 50-store cellphone chain in 2013.
Many small companies have done very well by selling niche products that have long since been put out to pasture, whether it’s vinyl records, typewriters or anything else that captures people’s fancy.
For some entrepreneurs, vintage sales are a sideline. Jonathan Finder started Oldphones.com 16 years ago when he was a young physician and the second income helped him pay off student loans.