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Published: Thursday, 8/15/2002

City could be home to a big doll house

`I've known these girls since they first started collecting,' says Rossford resident Judy Sikorski, with Judith Roach Kaminski, left, Janet Roach Pallo, right, and their carriages. `I've known these girls since they first started collecting,' says Rossford resident Judy Sikorski, with Judith Roach Kaminski, left, Janet Roach Pallo, right, and their carriages.

Judith Roach Kaminski and Janet Roach Pallo are twin sisters in the old-school style, with matching dresses, hairstyles, hobbies, and jobs.

They have one of the country's largest collections of antique baby buggies, and they show it off at the two-days-a-week Victorian Perambulator Museum in their little hometown of Jefferson, Ohio, near Ashtabula. They may seem harmless, but don't take them for fools.

The sisters are ready to go full time into the museum business, they said. And they have something special to offer a community that's willing to make a deal.

The pair came to Toledo recently, armed with books and national magazines featuring their unique antiques. Their collection is outgrowing its 4,000-square-foot building, and they're shopping for a new home, a permanent museum for their one-of-a-kind lineup of four-wheeled Sultans, Gondolas, Ferns, and Mary Lous.

Toledo greeted them in the forms of Danberry National real estate salesman Michael McCarthy and Toledo Department of Development marketing coordinator Julie Champa. They plied them with brochures and a tour of available Victorian commercial spaces.

They saw Fort Industry Square, One Lake Erie Center, the LaSalle Building, and discussed the Old West End, the Warehouse District, East Toledo, Uptown, and Rossford.

And through it all, in the background, the sisters' old friend, Judy Sikorski, kept up a steady cheer for Toledo.

“I've known these girls since they first started collecting,” said Mrs. Sikorski, a lifelong Rossford resident. “I knew they were talking to other cities about relocating, but I told them you have to see Toledo before you decide. It's beautiful here! And before we were The Glass City, our big industry was wagons. Wheels. They have some carriages in their collection that are from Toledo, from the old Gendron Wheel Company. Moving them here would be like coming home!” she enthused.

The sisters know just what they want in a new facility: A vintage building with a good traffic flow. A big wooden bar for an ice cream and tea counter. River and pedestrian access. Municipal tax breaks and small-business incentives.

“We need a city that will support us. We don't want to move the collection more than once,” Mrs. Pallo said.

“It's nice to be wanted,” her sister added. “Whoever lands this will not be disappointed. But a lot depends on the deal.”

A Victorian Perambulator Museum offers much to a city, they said; even in their present cramped quarters and limited hours, 3,000 visitors turned out last year to see ever-changing displays of museum-quality carriages, toys, gowns, and books.

They handle seminars, bus tours, conventions, and workshops, Victorian teas for the ladies, crafts sessions for the kids, and displays of clever vehicle technology and fabulous workmanship for automotive collectors' rallies.

“Antique car collectors love our museum,” Mrs. Kaminski said. “We have Victorian wedding gowns, children's books, sleighs, carousel horses, stained glass, dolls, puppets, mannequins, games, and toys for everyone else.”

“It's a family attraction. It's entertainment, more than just a museum. Collectors. Toy people. Car people. Transportation people. Craftsmen. These are artworks,” Mrs. Sikorski said.

As a sculptor in wicker, she restores damaged antique carriages in a shop near her Rossford home. She said she will donate her own huge antiques collection to the Perambulator Museum if it moves to town, and will offer lessons there in the dying craft of wickerwork.

The real estate man and economic development lady were polished enough not to promise anything, but they remained upbeat.

Mrs. Kaminiski and Mrs. Pallo smiled, and kept their own counsel. They are retired elementary schoolteachers, accustomed to wide-eyed enthusiasm.

But Mrs. Sikorski didn't mind.

“I can see this happening,” she told her friends. “Toledo is hungry for something like this. I can just see it. And I love to win, you know. I hate to lose.”

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