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Cozy and Crazy
A lifetime of collecting turns one house into a fun house
By Sally Friedman

David and Rosemarie Retzko sit on one of two barber shop chairs they rescued from a closing business

There is the predictable “wow” almost immediately. 

Then there is the pause to take it all in, to sneak an immediate peak at what’s beyond the replica of the Statue of Liberty right there at the entrance. It doesn’t take long to realize that while this sprawling, church-like building on a quiet street in Riverside is a home, it’s so unlike any home you’ve ever seen. David Retzko and his wife Rosemarie have grown accustomed to that very typical reaction by first-time visitors as they step inside. They understand the double-takes are for very good reasons. 

Stacked literally from floor to ceiling on the main level and then repeated on the second are THINGS. So many things that the effect is overwhelming and puzzling. 

How did so much, well, let’s simplify it by affectionately calling it “stuff,” end up here? Therein lies a tale. It’s one David and Rosemarie tell with patience, grace and, yes, humor. 

In his earlier years, David, a native son of what is now Willingboro, knew what his destiny would be. He became a proud and respected Willingboro policeman who went through the ranks, loved his work and did it with skill.  

“It was the best job in the world,” he says, referring to his 25 years on the force as patrolman, motor officer, SWAT team leader and civilian training officer until his retirement in 1995.  

In the background, there always was an interest in cars and machines, new and old, as well as a love for wood that he felt for decades. There was also an interesting visit to a furniture store that was going out of business in Maple Shade back in the early 1980s. David wandered that store and came upon a back room loaded with furniture in need of help. It was in such sorry shape that the store owner offered the whole batch of assorted pieces for $50 if this potential customer would take it away. 

This moment would turn out to be a life-changer, although David was the last to know it. 

He took that load to his Willingboro home, stashed it in a spare room and gradually went to work to get it all in showroom shape. Again, wood seemed to speak to him. No trumpets blared. No drum roll thundered. But a new chapter – and a compelling one – was born. 

“I started going to yard sales and began collecting odd things, including anything at all from old sirens, tables and pieces of machinery. You name it – I brought it home,” David remembers of those beginnings. “I also began to realize that old things somehow appealed to lots of people.” 

Those early “Eureka” moments led this man with a keen eye and an innate sense of what appealed to others down a new path that led him to his life today. David is an expert in spotting what others might call “junk,” but he sees as potential treasure. It’s an art and a calling. And definitely a passion. 

David slowly became a collector of ephemera. Odd things. Quirky and diverse things. Like so many of us, he haunted flea markets and places where hodge-podges of the unusual and collectible might be. But unlike most of us, he kept going. 

“This definitely went beyond casual interest,” he smiles. “I kept going and going and going.” 

In the interim, life happened. He married, established a home in Willingboro, had children and ultimately divorced. But in one of life’s delightful surprises, this guy with a love of cast-offs found another kind of love, this one, the best kind. In a fitting twist of fate, he was reunited with his teenage love after they had long gone their separate ways and had married other spouses. She, too, was divorced. 

After a first date to a Flyer’s game, the two realized the spark had been reignited, and David and Rosemarie picked up where they had left off. She had launched a successful career in banking, had children and, as it turned out, had a knack for the very things her new husband was doing. 

“It got to be contagious,” she says. 

In 2010, it became obvious that this collection, which was growing exponentially, needed more space. David found it in a large former machine shop in Riverside. It needed a tremendous amount of work and David did much of it himself, morphing into a do-it-yourselfer, motivated by bringing his now-vast collection of treasures out of their cartons. It was a labor of love, but a labor that involved epic amounts of rebuilding in this two-floor structure with a huge basement. 

Those wounded pieces of the past and sometimes the present moved into that space, and word got out. Word started spreading of the whimsically named owners of “obnoxious antiques” located in Burlington City and Riverside. And then there are the ongoing trips to Brimfield Massachusetts’ epic hunting ground for collectors that continues to fortify the inventory, again with Rosemarie as the CEO of visual design. 

It’s almost impossible to catalogue the wide and wild variety of inventory in the Riverside building. From jukeboxes and huge boat sails to funky posters of the famous and infamous, past and present, along with uncountable old toys and magnificent stained glass. It’s an adventure just to wander into this wonderland. 

Even the rafters above the bed are spots for unique keepsakes

Throw in a gypsy fortuneteller in her booth, original war weapons, dolls of all descriptions and vintages, and a whole world of lunchboxes. Then consider the parts of bicycles and vehicles; endless train sets and wall pieces that are all stacked in piles or displayed in room settings.     

But it also must be noted that the Riverside building has been the home for this unusual couple who seem, well, perfectly at home in the chaos. They have hosted epic parties for several hundred guests in the building. “We love to entertain,” says David. “And our guests just love to wander and explore.” 

And let’s not forget that David and Rosemarie happily lived in this space, carving out a perfectly functional and lovely kitchen with every convenience plus a master suite on the second level that you could find in a quirky but lovely B&B. Their eclectic possessions somehow merge into an appealing whole – that’s no small feat.           

But life changes. 

Every space — including what most people would call the kitchen and game room — is overflowing with one-of-a-kind mementos

For the past several years, David and Rosemarie have dreamed of living on the water, so they have listed the building for sale to move to a very special site on the banks of the Rancocas in Willingboro. And no, they can’t possibly take all their beloved possessions with them. 

“It’s a bit painful to part with so much,” says Rosemarie. “I’ve come to love this collection. But it’s also kind of exciting to plan a new life. For Dave, the thrill of the chase will probably go on, but not at the same pace.” 

The Riverside building is for sale, and there has been keen interest in it. To seek, find, sell and seek again in this remarkable museum of miscellany would be nearly impossible. But for this unique couple, the quest itself has been an adventure and yes, a joy. 

“Frankly, I still love the thrill of the chase,” says David. “I love the buying, I love the selling, but most of all, I love the idea that life can be an adventure – and boy, what fun we’ve had in the process.”

September 2018
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