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From rags to riches: How a Starke antique store owner’s life changed through faith

Riches Place Antiques store owner Richard “Rich” Sipe lived 15 years as an alcoholic on the streets until he turned his life around and now gives back to his community.

“I gave my life to the Lord and then everything turned around,” Sipe said. “I went from pushing shopping carts to doing this kind of business. From Rags to Riches.”

Sipe, 57, said he became an alcoholic at 13, and two years later he was living on the streets of York, Pennsylvania, after running away from home. Sipe said he found a love for religion that has been his motivation following a life hitchhiking and sleeping in tents. He now helps the homeless in north Florida and owns an antique store that fosters his love for “old junk.”

“I like junk,” Sipe said. “I like old stuff. People used to not throw away stuff. Now people throw away everything. We can’t lose the past.”

Sipe was born and reared by a single mother with six other siblings in York. His mother was confined to a wheelchair after she was shot in the leg during the York race riots of 1969. The family lived a life of poverty, though not realizing it at the time. After running away from home, he found himself living on the streets of Florida for 15 years.

“I traveled, rode the freight trains, and hitchhiked across the country a lot,” Sipe said. “I joined a carnival and that crazy stuff.”

After he discovered his love for Jesus Christ, he opened a homeless ministry for men in the Ocala area, serving the Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa communities. The goal of this ministry was to get the men in his ministry off any of their addictions and right with God. Sipe’s sister, Leanne Snyder, joined him about 15 years ago to help start a women’s shelter.

Though the women’s shelter shut down after four or five years, Snyder said the experience opened her eyes. It was difficult because many of the women she worked with were mean and harsh. Despite this, she still has a heart for the homeless community.

“There've been homeless people that I’ll see, and I just feel that God puts it on my heart to take them in and give them a place to stay,” Snyder said. “I’ll try to help them as much as I can. I guess because Rich was homeless for so many years, I kind of have a heart for the homeless.”

After turning his life around, Sipe said he wrote a story about living on the streets called “Heart of the Streets,” which is the name of his ministry. Songwriter Craig Seaton wrote a song titled “Heart of the Street,” after Sipe’s story, that won many awards.

To help pay for his ministry, Sipe made a living selling things at the Waldo Farmers and Flea Market, which led him to open his store on U.S. Route 301 South going into Starke. He sells everything from spark plug machines to old telephone booths.

Owning the antique store allows him to buy and sell better quality stuff than he could at the flea market. He also travels to Mexico to buy things, such as large metal chickens and fire pits, when stock is low.

“We’re an antique store, but we sell other things as well,” Sipe said. “The more you [have] the more you sell.”

Sipe said he settled in Starke because of the small-town community feel and the people there. He met his good friend Norman Chapman 10 to 12 years ago at the flea market.

“He bought some stuff from me, and we became good friends,” Chapman said. “Rich dealt with antiques, I dealt with anything.”

Although the antique store is his primary commitment, Sipe said he makes sure to help out the community of which he was once a part. Whenever it gets really cold, Sipe and his family collect blanket donations in the antique store and bring them to the homeless in Jacksonville. They go late at night because that’s when they find the people who need them most. They have come across numerous people, many of whom refuse the blanket.

“If you go out when it’s warm, they go in the garbage,” Sipe said. “[The homeless] don’t hold onto things. We just go when it’s really cold.”

Sipe continues to run his antique store while making sure he also spends ample time with his family and grandkids. He hopes people will come in when passing through Starke and see his store with “all the junk” out front.

“I’m no special person, but, hey, I started pushing shopping carts going to the flea market,” Sipe said. “Now, I’m king of the junk. God has been really good to my life. I can’t even describe it.”

Kathryn is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing