Alison and I went to a neighboring community antique mall yesterday. I wonder, is that label, ‘antique mall’, ubiquitous to you? In my case, most of our local antique dealers participate in this sort of scenario:
Picture an old, failing strip mall on the outskirts of Anytown. Some friendly, usually middle-aged couple, who have tons of junk-stuff-antiques-flotsam & jetsam filling shelves and basement and attic in their home suddenly decide (because the kids are finally gone for REAL) to downsize. While they’re at it, they also ponder opening their own business, because – why not. They aren’t really ready to retire. They like interesting, even curiously odd folks who are into old stuff. They wonder if they may be able to build a tidy little nest egg that will allow them to settle in a small dry valley home with a view of the hills of Sedona out of every window. Plus, they know instinctively that there are others of their kind out there, those who have a butt load of stuff and much of the same passion to share it with a willing world.
The antique mall is born. A gigantic warehouse type space that harbors denizens of small cubicles or stalls. All unmanned. All filled with the ephemera of many lives. Each space rented out by someone hoping to sell bits and pieces of their (or someone else’s) past. Hundreds of monthly rental fees that, in part, help to build that tidy nest egg; that hope for the future of older age peace and fulfillment.
Honestly, for whatever reason these places come into existence, they make up the majority of the actual process whereby old stuff is sold in my community and I suspect, the only way any owner could feasibly hope to pay for a building and the associated costs surrounding their desire to purge.
We venture into these places not usually looking to buy. We spend an hour or two wandering, touching, laughing, and for me, often remembering and telling stories. We know going in that each storefront, no matter location, will mimic the next in its content. We mostly know that much of what we see is overpriced. We wouldn’t know a good find if flung itself off of a shelf and into our hands. We are opinionated and often wonder (sometimes out loud) what drove the owner of an object to possess it. I find myself often turning these outings into quasi-sociological research – contemplating the social ramifications of the booth filled with hundreds of thimbles and sewing paraphernalia, or the sad corner booth owner who will likely never sell the full-size sleigh or the granite-looking yet clearly plastic 12-foot columns.
There is always at least one booth that appears to have been lifted from the basement of a university library. The owner has filled the shelves with some of the oldest books imaginable. I dread opening some of them, fearing that the only thing left inside will be dust. Yesterday, tucked into the shelves filled with original Nancy Drew and Bobsey Twins series, I came across some in the Cherry Ames series. I was devastated. I never knew this series as a child and I feel cheated at best. This series, had I known it was available during my formative years, would – I am positive – have given me the strength to believe that I too could fulfill my dream of being a nurse.
There is always the overcrowded stall, so much so that one can only stand and peer fearing total destruction and chaos upon entering; the mismatched-non-themed stall, which always has something related to Elvis among its wares; the outdoorsy, obviously gender specific manly man stall (usually directly opposite the frilly, obviously gender specific frivolous doily filled kitchen ware stall); the original-in-the-box Barbie stall, the farm equipment stall; the Pick An Era stall; the country-decor-went-out-with-the-1980’s stall; the dead and stuffed animal stall, the quirky gadget stall, the I-have-so-much-random-old-costume-jewelry-that-I-will-sell-it-to-you-in-gallon-size-Ziploc-baggies-for-$35-a-bag stall…
I will stop, because I can only assume that you either get my drift or have been to one of these places yourself, and… if you have not then you must find one and go…soon.
I must also mention the fans. Small round fans. Medium-sized square fans. Large industrial fans. Fans sitting in open doorways blowing air in. Fans hidden overhead blowing your hair as you shop. Fans to circulate the musty, stale old-smelling air. Fans meant to cool the always hot spaces. Fans that will, when one of these malls catches fire, blow said fire into a frenzy until the electrical system gets toasted and nothing is salvageable anyway. A warning: never spend too much time in the farthest back corner of one of these malls. These corners never have exits and invariably will be your tomb when fire breaks out.
Of course, as Alison and I encountered yesterday, my favorite stalls house the memorabilia of my youth. The avocado, or burnt orange, or harvest gold-colored wares. The hand-crocheted, multi-colored vests. The tie-dye, and the velvet posters. And the decor. The exact “pole lamp” that sat directly behind the red recliner in my living room. I kid you not, we had this lamp. Or my all-time favorite: the glass grapes.
Coming upon a stall filled with such evocative sights makes me cringe at first. Those stalls set in motion memories both happy and sad, funny and heartfelt, painful and slightly surreal.
Coming upon these stalls also create some of the best moments that I share with Alison.