If it’s weird and wacky, the Kensington Pickers want to buy it

Kensington Pickers
The Kensington Pickers, Matt Melnick, left, and Robert “Buddy” Stewart, are always on the hunt for odd items across Philadelphia. | Image: Robert “Buddy” Stewart and Matthew Melnick

You might have heard of the “American Pickers,” or maybe seen an episode or two of the History Channel show featuring two guys who travel the nation unearthing fantastic antiques and collectables.

But have you met the Kensington Pickers?

Matt Melnick and Robert “Buddy” Stewart hunt for things around the city to sell at their store. They look for the weird, wacky, wild and odd items. Some of their greatest picks in the past include an original Coney Island ticket booth door, an eight-foot rabbit statue from an old mini golf course that was featured in the “Jackass” movie, an 1800s stained glass window from an old brothel that depicted a devil and a pin-up girl, and a 14-foot fiberglass statue of William Penn that is a one-third scale of the one atop City Hall. 

PW recently caught up with Melnick and Stewart to talk about picking Philly.

When and how did you two get together and start picking? What attracted you to scouring flea markets, auctions, etc. for hidden treasures?

Stewart:  We knew each other for quite some time, and about a year ago we formed our partnership. Matt and I always had a mutual respect as well as mutual interest in the type of strange merchandise that we deal in, so it wasn’t surprising when we partnered up. We are modern day pirates looking for treasure! But our treasure is oddball antiques and anything weird we can find on the way.

How has the pandemic affected your picking and resale efforts?

Melnick:  Actually, it’s been good for us, as it gave us the time to go out and pick new items while the world was shut down. We were out (masked up) knocking on doors and picking anywhere we could, basically selling online and investing for when the world opened back up.

From a Coney Island ticket booth to a William Penn statue, the Kensington Pickers, Matt Melnick, left, and Robert “Buddy” Stewart, unearthed quite a few unique items in the city. | Image: Robert “Buddy” Stewart and Matthew Melnick

How do you determine if a piece is right for you to buy or one that you’ll pass over? 

Melnick: We always say “we don’t know what we’re looking for, but we know when we find it.” We are both fortunate enough to have a good eye for this stuff because we started in this business with our fathers at a very young age.

What’s been the strangest piece or pieces you’ve uncovered?

Stewart: Since we specialize in strange and oddball items, we usually find weird stuff all the time, but some of the pieces that we had in the past that stood out were an antique mummy from a real sideshow of yesteryear, a 100-year-old giant taxidermy lion head, and a century-old set of windows from a Philadelphia brothel that featured hand painted graphics of the devil and a nude pin-up girl.

What’s been the strangest place you’ve picked?

Stewart: We’ve picked everywhere and are willing to pick anywhere as long as they have good stuff. We’ve been through abandoned amusement parks and zoos, old factories, scrap and junk yards, funeral homes, old garages, you name it! One day we may be picking a multi-million dollar estate. The following day we’re getting dirty in an old junk yard.

What’s your advice for someone who might have a lot of “old stuff” or unique items? Is there a way they can determine if it holds value or should just be thrown away? 

Melnick: If it’s something that you love and think is cool, then keep it. Monetary value isn’t everything. Sometimes things are sentimental and the memories you may have connected with that item can’t be bought. Now, if you are dead set on selling, give us a call and we will definitely check it out. Even if it’s not for us and we have no interest, we can usually tell you if you got something or if it’s run of the mill.

When you get a piece that might show signs of age or disrepair, do you restore it or do you resell it in its original condition, and why? 

Stewart: We usually try to keep it all original. There’s something beautiful about natural patina that gives items “the look.” If you want brand new, go to Walmart, but most antiques have some character marks that make them look even better than new.

How can people stay current with the pieces that you have for sale, and what are the best ways for them to make a purchase?  

Melnick: A lot of our stuff is posted on our Instagram @TheKensingtonPickers, or they can check out our pop-up in Thunderbird Salvage at 2441 Frankford Ave.

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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