When Danish Country & Modern permanently shutters on New Year’s Eve, it not only draws the curtain on one of Charles Street’s longest standing retail establishments after nearly four decades in business at the same location, but also leave behind one less of only a handful of remaining antique shops on what was once rightfully called Boston’s “antique row.”
Jim Kilroy opened the store at 138 Charles St. on Feb. 1, 1984, immediately after the first delivery container arrived there, and passersby clamored around to get a closer look at the unusual selection of Scandinavian antiques and mid-century modern furniture he was selling.
“The store had no sign at first, but people saw us unloading the shipment were curious and then they saw the merchandise, which wasn’t your typical antiques,” he said. “There was no mahogany, and it wasn’t American or English. It was totally sort of fresh and fashionable.”
Over the previous month, Kilroy had enlisted family members, including his sister, Ann Kfoury, and others, to help him thoroughly renovate the approximately 1,500 square-foot space, which previously hadn’t been touched in 35 years. They did all the restoration, except the electrical work themselves, Kilroy said, including removing partitions, painting the ceiling blue and remodeling the basement.
As for Kilroy, he had just returned to Boston after living in Europe for several years to be closer to his family, and his wife, Ruthi, was pregnant with their first child, Danielle. It wasn’t until later that he learned many of the other antique dealers on Charles Street pitied him then and believed that his store would never last with its selection of unconventional merchandise.
The doubters were soon silenced, however.
“I just opened the doors and people flocked in,” he said. “I was very lucky because people liked what I was selling.”
Danish Country & Modern was also graced with good fortune early on when Mopsy Strange Kennedy, a frequent contributor to The Boston Globe at the time, featured the store in a small write-up with a photo in that newspaper’s Sunday edition on March 25, 1984, and which still hangs in the store to this day.
Even more so, Kilroy credits the devoted and unwavering support of his family, as well as good friends, like Courtney McGlynn, a professor of graphic design at Bunker Hill Community College, who’ve been there since the beginning of the business’s long and successful run on Charles Street.
“It was a small family affair then,” Kilroy said of Danish Country Antiques, “and that’s how it’s remained.”
Leanne, the middle of Kilroy’s three children who now lives in London, helped him make the jump from placing weekly ads in The Globe’s Sunday editions to Instagram and other social media, as well as with the launch of Danish Country Antiques’ website around 20 years.
“We were one of the first furniture stores to have a website, and it wasn’t fluff either, it actually showed the furniture,” Kilory said, adding: “We’ve already gone through two servers.”
Besides Leanne, Jonathan, the youngest of the siblings who worked in the shop in high school, and now lives in San Francisco, has been helping Kilroy move out of the Charles Street space, and Danielle, who now lives in Maine, pitches in when she can, too.
Additionally, another of his sisters, Carol Kilroy, has worked in the shop alongside his sister, Ann, for the past 15 years as well.
Danish Country & Modern, meanwhile, has won numerous accolades over the years, including notably, Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston in 2012, as well as Yankee Magazine’s Best of New England in 2004 and again in 2009.
Besides goods imported from Scandinavia, which have been a mainstay for the business since it first opened, the shop also dealt in Chinese furniture for a number of years beginning in 1997, but eventually stopped carrying those items when they fell out of fashion.
Since the very beginning, Kilroy has made regular pilgrimages to Denmark and Sweden to personally ensure that every item the shop sells lives up to his own discerning standards. “It has to be something I like,” he said,” and if I don’t like it, I don’t buy it.”
Recently Kilroy has taken about three buying trips to Europe each year, but in the 1980s and ‘90s, at the height of his business, he made about five a year. His last one was in February, and even though Kilroy heard rumblings of the impending pandemic when he was last in Denmark, he said, “No one understood it then.”
But by the time that container arrived, all business in Boston had been sidelined by COVID-19, so Kilroy had all the incoming merchandise transported to his warehouse in Newton (which closed a few weeks ago as well).
Even if he could potentially resume making buying trips to Europe again in the near future, Kilroy said Danish Country & Modern wouldn’t reopen at its current location, and that he needs to take a much-deserved break from working to catch his breath after 37 years in business.
And while his impending retirement might only turn out to be temporary, Kilroy said he couldn’t conceive of owning another business anywhere other than on Charles Street.
“It’s been great, and I think it’s a great neighborhood,” Kilroy said. “People always ask me, ‘Don’t you want to open another store?’ But Charles Street would be a very difficult act to follow.”
Danish Country & Modern is located at 138 Charles St. Visit https://danishcountry.net or call 617-227-1804 for more information.