Share this article

print logo

People Talk / A conversation with Henry Sontag of Horsefeathers Antiques

Henry “Hank” Sontag ran a clothing shop called Goody Two Shoes in the Main Place Mall for much of the ’70s before he became bored and turned to antiques full time. A 1963 graduate of Riverside High School, Sontag would attend the University of Buffalo before he found his niche.

In 1997 Sontag knew he was hooked on antiques when he bought Horsefeathers Architectural Antiques on Connecticut Street and incorporated his own Hollywood Hank’s collectibles.

Today, he still can’t kick the habit.

At age 69, he operates his business out of a two-story brick building on Chandler Street in Black Rock. He also has a hand in restaurant decor; his collectibles have livened up the walls of the old Garcia’s Irish Pub, the former Billy Ogden’s, Fat Bob’s Smokehouse and most recently Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Franklin Street.

When he’s not hunting for collectibles, Sontag will track deer and bear with his two sons or vacation with his wife, Cindy.

People Talk: Describe yourself.

Henry “Hank” Sontag: Old, fat and ugly. And nobody likes me. When I was younger I used to get picked on all the time. I was 5 foot 2 until I was a sophomore in high school, and I grew 9 inches in a year. Even the kids in the neighborhood used to pick on me, so I taught myself how to fight.

PT: Maybe it’s your Black Rock roots.

HS: Yeah, but I went to Cardinal Dougherty and St. Francis of Xavier. I was an altar boy, a Boy Scout. I did it all. I got thrown out of the Scout Explorers. I got thrown out of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). My friend and I were in a play, and we rewrote our lines and didn’t tell anybody. We won a competition and the priest made us forfeit it because I said hell. Shortly thereafter they threw me out.

PT: You were a rebel.

HS: I might have said that, yes.

PT: Are you a hoarder?

HS: I think everybody in this business hoards stuff, but I buy stuff to make money. Even if I buy it for myself, I know eventually I’ll sell it to someone else. To answer that question with an open mind, I guess I would have to say yes. Do you see all the stuff I have around here? I’ll show you my hunting camp in Ellicottville. It’s absolutely insane.

PT: What’s your house like?

HS: We redid a carriage house 35 years ago and it’s really contemporary. Now I have a three-story – modern furniture mixed with antiques. Yeah, there’s too much stuff in the house. I’ve just neglected it because we’ve been busy for this last year. I’m still trying to get out of this business.

PT: You just can’t quit, can you?

HS: I have to. My wife, she really can’t do this anymore. There’s not enough business here that requires us to be here for even three days. I sell most of my stuff through networking. It’s not worthwhile to have a store open because people come through and they waste your time.

PT: It appears that you are addicted to collecting.

HS: Have you been talking to my wife? It is an addiction, you know. I never did drugs, and I drank a while but this is an addiction, I admit it. I’m addicted to buying stuff.

PT: What kind of car do you drive?

HS: I bought my wife a Toyota Sienna. I bought a Jeep for my boys which I love. And in my garage I have an ’86 Ferrari, a ’61 Porsche and a ’66 Mustang. I bought the Mustang for my son and he drove it two months so this year I’m fixing it up for myself. I have a Harley I have not rode in two years. Every time I pull the Porsche out to sell it, I can’t let it go. I traded antiques for that car 35 years ago.

PT: What did you want to be growing up?

HS: A priest or a cop. I had a lot of colorful problems with priests, and more with cops so that sort of phased out.

PT: Are you an outdoorsman?

HS: I am. I hunt and fish. I can only sit in a tree stand for two hours, but I love it because I never hunted in tree stands. I always walked. I love nature. One of my favorite stories was listening to geese fly overhead. One had a creak in its wing.

PT: What holds the biggest draw for you: hunting for animals or antiques?

HS: They’re pretty much the same thing, but you can’t compare the two. You only hunt a certain part of the year. Antiques are all the time. I don’t love antiques the same as a being out in nature and hunting deer and bear. I sort of got jaded with antiques, but I’ll never get jaded with hunting.

PT: Let’s say you divest the business, what’s next?

HS: This is one of my pet projects that I would really like to develop the land across the street into a park for the neighborhood. And I want to travel.

PT: What motivates you?

HS: Me. Cindy and I went away for almost three weeks to North Miami Beach. I don’t remember the last time I was that relaxed. I slept every night, didn’t get sick, didn’t pop my knees out. I was so relaxed I could not wait to get back here to start working on Dinosaur.

PT: What would you call yourself?

HS: Honest. I disrespect people who are not honest, and that includes politicians, police, antique dealers. I’ve always been like that. I never felt like I had to lie. I just detest people who are not honest.

PT: You must know a lot of people?

HS: Owe a lot of people? I know a lot of people but I have a select group of friends. Because of the way I grew up – the way I transitioned through life – I found out that most of my friends were just there to use me in any way they can. It’s unfortunate but true.

PT: Do you treat yourself well?

HS: I’m not a guy who has to stay in the Taj Mahal. I don’t need to pay $300, $500 for a room. Restaurants are another story.

PT: What is your favorite dish to order out?

HS: Fois gras. It’s climactic in your mouth.

PT: Is there anything else you want to tell me?

HS: Do you have a couple more hours?