Above, Paul Richard, left, and Billy
Leroy with Richard’s painting of Hannibal Lecter for
sale at Billy’s Antiques & Props. Below, Lorraine Leckie,
Leroy’s wife, with Graviteo, who frequently stops by the
Prop man helps
L.E.S. photog get his props
By Gerry Visco
It was a typical night over at Billy’s Antiques &
Props on E. Houston St. hard by the Bowery. You’ve seen
the place — arrayed on the sidewalk in front of the old
green tent, a collection of stylish vintage bureaus,
funky coffee tables and kitschy objets d’art for sale by
and you’ll find the eponymous storeowner, Billy Leroy.
Look for the tall dapper figure of a man with a long,
light-brown ponytail, tattoos peeking out from his
elegant custom-made shirt. And lurking in every corner
and hanging from the ceiling of the tent are demons and
gargoyles, Jesus with a bloodied crown of thorns,
stuffed foxes and other fauna in a tableau of fabulously
secondhand treasures from everywhere.
And who better to sell such relics than Billy Leroy,
who’s on stage here every day of his life, the carnival
barker and emcee of the flea market where everyone,
famous and humble alike, comes by to sit on a couch,
open a bureau drawer, people-watch and play with
Kill-Joy, the store’s affectionate Rottweiler mascot.
The store is still a salon and social epicenter of
the Lower East Side, the way things used to be before
big money took over. Sure, Leroy is here to make a
profit of sorts, but for him, his antique business is a
labor of love and a place where he, his wife, his
friends and customers can come together. CBGB may have
closed, high-rise luxury co-ops are invading the area,
the local American Apparel is attracting yuppies in
droves. A Whole Foods mega-supermarket has opened on the
other side of the street, but Billy’s is still hanging
The tent’s been pitched at 76 E. Houston St. since
1986, when it was called Lot 76 and run by former owner
Rob Fennick. When Fennick passed away in 2003, Leroy
took over and, despite rising rents, has been able to
hold his own.
“Luckily, I have a progressive landlord,” he enthused
with a grin. The flophouses are gone and the infamous
“bucket of blood” bars, notorious watering holes for
many a down-and-out drunk, have vanished. Like dinosaurs
in a time warp, a few of the remaining Bowery bums
emerge from hiding, lugging stuff to sell at Billy’s.
Sometimes they’ll jump into the conversation or try to
help make a sale. The shop is tolerant of eccentricity
and that’s what makes Billy’s different from a chain
store. This ain’t no disco and, as Leroy’s Web site
proclaims, it ain’t no Crate & Barrel either.
Indeed, if he likes you, Leroy might even show you
his “Lion Boy.” He keeps it in an old ornate cabin,
stored in a formaldehyde jar. It’s a human fetus with
its head fused to its back, giving it the appearance of
having a mane. It’s actually a girl.
The neighborhood spirit of the Lower East Side lives
on at Billy’s, whose owner takes pleasure in doing
favors. For example, Leroy was instrumental in Clayton
Patterson’s upcoming art opening at Kinz, Tillou +
Feigen, one of New York City’s foremost art galleries,
on Sept. 10. Artist, photographer, author and Downtown
personality, Patterson has an archive of more than
200,000 photographs documenting the inhabitants of the
Lower East Side over the last 25 years. Leroy helped
select the images for the show himself and, because he
believed in the value of the work, went out and pitched
the project to art galleries. Both Leroy and Patterson
were thrilled when the Chelsea gallery said yes.
They’ve been friends since the late 1990s because
Patterson is a regular visitor to the tent. Other
well-known customers of Leroy’s include Jim Jarmusch,
Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre,
photographer Nan Goldin, other artists, rockers, movie
stars, hookers, hipsters, gangstas, playas and newly
arrived investment bankers and hotshot corporate
More than 6 feet 3 inches with a long, wiry beard,
Patterson seems like a tough guy — he’s renowned for
filming the Tompkins Square Park riots in 1988, which he
says was responsible for his being arrested 13 times and
getting several teeth knocked out by the police. The
burly, longtime Lower East Side resident originally
hailing from Calgary, Alberta, is one of Billy Leroy’s
biggest fans and the feeling is mutual.
With connoisseur Leroy’s eye for cutting-edge art
developed through years of dealing in antiques and
collectibles, he urged Patterson to exhibit his work
officially, in a gallery. Like many artists, Patterson
had neither the talent nor desire to sell his own work
to one of those slick, upscale galleries. He himself
runs a storefront gallery out of his home on Essex St.
called the Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Museum specializing
in artists outside the mainstream — but of course
nowadays outsider art has become chic. Patterson has
been written about in numerous publications and is the
author of two books about the Lower East Side —
“Captured” and “Resistance” — and is finishing up two
more volumes, one about tattoos and the other, a
compendium of Jewish lore from the neighborhood.
Yet Patterson’s comprehensive and fabled collection
of photographs illustrating the rich social history of
the area has never been publicly exhibited. Who better
to represent Patterson’s work than another renegade, the
ever-debonair and charming Leroy, who hung out with the
rich and famous as a youth — he grew up on E. 87th St.
between Park and Madison Aves. and was educated at elite
prep schools in the U.S. and Switzerland. He played
football at Northeastern, but to satisfy his creative
urges switched to the Art Institute in Boston and
graduated in 1984. He then married and had a daughter
and began working at Grey Advertising as an art
director. However, he soon became bored with corporate
“I started dabbling in antiques,” Leroy said. “I
remember my father taking me to the Paris flea market.”
He started buying and selling art and antiques on the
side. Things started slowly and he was only making
$13,000 a year, but then business quickly started to
“I bought a painting for 2,000 and sold it for 6,” he
said. “Ever since then, I’ve been an antique dealer.”
Transitioning to selling antiques, he quit his job
and moved his family to Paris for a few years. When they
returned to New York, he got obsessed with motorcycles
and became a bit of a biker. As for his home life, “we
started to do the suburb thing in Paramus,” he recalled.
As he adopted a scruffier lifestyle and started
amassing tattoos, he and his wife divorced. Drinking too
much and partying was fun for a while, but by the late
1990s he had a revelation that his life needed more
purpose. He settled down when he took over his antiques
business on E. Houston St. and married singer Lorraine
Knowing intimately the worlds of wealth and Downtown
art, Leroy had the polish and the moxie to represent
Patterson’s work to the galleries Uptown and the rest is
On a recent Friday summer night, Patterson stopped by
the tent to say hello. An oversized painting of Hannibal
the Cannibal Lecter, with his characteristic rubber
mouth restraint, was prominently displayed this night.
A guy in an S.U.V. with his family pulled up.
“I love that painting,” he called out. “How much is
Leroy always rises to the occasion.
“I just got that, it’s fresh. Three thousand bucks.”
But the man in the van was on his way home.
“Come back tomorrow, let’s make a deal,” Leroy said.
Leroy’s wife, Lorraine, who had just played a gig at
the Mercury Lounge, sat on a couch strumming a guitar.
Customers came and went, buying and selling, talking and
hanging out. It was the Lower East Side the way it used
to be — and here at Billy’s Antiques & Props it still