By Eric Marion
“Antiquing” is a time-honored tradition among shoppers of a certain sort. Searching for that perfect curio (and finding a delightful tsotchke along the way) is one of life’s simple pleasures for many folks. In San Juan, there are a handful of hidden antique stores. None are as “hidden” or as well-stocked as Fortaleza Antiques. Tucked behind a non-descript reja (ornate grill-work) on Calle San Jose, passerbys will miss the store unless they are specifically seeking it out. Word-of-mouth has obviously worked well for Fortaleza Antiques; in business for 29 years, the shop has no signage or advertising. This speaks mountains about the quality of merchandise offered by that store. In an age dominated by million dollar mouth pieces, gauche advertising that too often includes wardrobe “malfunctions”, and the unrelenting ubiquity of the “social media”, witness first-hand the success of old-fashioned customer service and quality merchandise. The store's stand-alone marketing campaign is refreshing (in a vintage, reminiscent sort of way).
The store is filled (but not “stuffed”) with merchandise that spans periods, genres, and continents. Mission period pieces are found in abundance (this was, after all, colonial Puerto Rico). English and German antiques hint at frequent shopping trips abroad by the owner, Sharon Bartos. The Orient is well-represented (although presumably these items traveled to Puerto Rico via the American Colonies at the height of British and American obsession with Oriental art). The Chinese and Japanese items fit nicely into the Victorianesque feel f of Fortaleza.
The store opens into a courtyard, one of those “hidden gems” for which San Juan is known. The sitting area is exposed to dappled light and ensconced in lush yet subdued ferns, an additional nod to Victorian design sensibilities. Fortaleza’s Antiques all but whispers in the voice of owners past. Heraldic emblems in one of the rooms would indicate that some of these previous owners were men and women of some importance.
Fortaleza Antiques is most certainly a “must-see” for San Juan visitors and residents who enjoy the finer things in life. Even the coldest contemporary condo needs a little heart. At Fortaleza Antiques, that heart is easy to find, even if that heart is a little tea-stained.
Calle San Jose No. 103
Old San Juan 00901