The Antique Shop Charmer

In the very early planning stages for my antique shop, I always knew I wanted to have a means by which I could tell someone had entered the shop when I was in my house. Unless I was working with inventory, staging displays, or waiting on customers, I wasn’t planning on being in the shop all the time when I could be inside my house doing other equally important things. Ahh…..the joy of working out of your home and having your “office” mere steps away! So I discretely installed a camera with a sensor that would alert me in my house with the ring of a bell when someone stepped inside the shop. Initially I had to adjust that quite a bit until it worked properly because it was very sensitive & I quickly found that insects & the wind could easily set it off. Much to my repeated annoyance, when I heard the bell ring during the first week of opening my shop, I had bounded outside numerous times with much excitement & anticipation of customers only to discover an empty shop…. & eventually that Mother Nature was the culprit of this cruel trick. That was easily remedied, however, it took me much longer to figure out that the local sheriff’s vehicle radar somehow interfered with the camera sensor & could also activate it. This would happen mostly at night. The bell would start ringing out of the blue & give me a startle. I was very perplexed by this for some time until I finally realized these events coincided with a sheriff’s car whizzing past my house with lights flashing. Doubly annoying! I was able to tweak that issue as well, but not before having a little fun with it. My indoor-only cat, Ellery, also noticed these nightime bell occurences & would often awake with a jolt from a snooze with an alarmed expression on her face. I don’t think it was the bell itself that bothered her, more the combination of a siren & lights with it. Regardless, I would put on my best “uh-oh” face, look at her & exclaim, “They’re coming to get you, Ellery!” She would tear out of the room with her infamous cartoon-like running to hide under some big piece of furniture until the perceived crisis had passed. Poor Ellery!! I love her to pieces but that never got old.

Speaking of Ellery, when she wasn’t hiding in fear of said sheriff, she was actually making a few associations  of her own with my newly installed camera & bell. Within a few days of opening my shop, I noticed she would follow me to the front door when she heard the bell. Moments later I would spy her from the shop entrance peering out of the back door window at me & my customers. Being my loyal sidekick, she had put two & two together & realized  when the bell rang, she had the potential to see not only me outside, but also my new visitors. A feast for curious feline eyes! When I was finished in the shop & returned to the house, there she would be at the door like a dog, waiting to greet me again. Nothing got past my exceptionally astute Ellery, especially when it involved an opportunity to watch any outdoor activity from her windows on the world. So who exactly is Ellery, you ask? Why she’s my Antique Shop Charmer!

When I first brought Ellery home she only weighed 1 1/2 pounds. She was so small that even the vet called her a “bitten” instead of a kitten because she was such a tiny, bit of a thing. What she lacked in stature, however, she certainly made up for with her huge personality! Gregarious, impish, playful, very curious, often hilarious & simply precious are just a few descriptions that come to mind. Of course you never consider rational things beforehand when you fall in love with a sweet, adorable pet & instantly want to take it home with you. Having this teeny, inquisitive bundle of energy around in the middle of an old house renovation definitely never entered my mind & quickly proved to be quite challenging once I brought her home! Much to my chagrin, even the tallest of dog gates & my constant invention of new barriers could not keep her from finding unfinished work zones & managing to get into all kinds of undesirable circumstances. I’d fish Ellery out of unfinished walls & duct work, find her hiding under tarps, discover her tip toeing through wet paint or having a snack in the pantry that still had no door, catch her somersaulting into huge pieces of wood & drywall, delighting in long tape measure chases & batting around tools….aagghh! She endlessly explored every possible opening, nook & cranny of this old home & was constantly testing my daily sanity. She even taught herself how to open 100-year-old latch doors that were firmly closed. To this day when I hear the familiar “click-clack” of a latch repeatedly upstairs, I know it’s no ghost, it’s just Ellery & her incredible determination to be somewhere I don’t want her to. But….being so smart, so sweet, so loving & cute….I wouldn’t have it any other way!

One of Ellery’s favorite things to do when she was little (when she wasn’t stuck in a wall), was to run back & forth on the floor in front of the glass back doors. With the grace of a gymnast she’d spend hours zipping uIMG_0435p & down that runway like it was a balance beam, looking out the glass, & simply having a joyous time….for reasons that still remain a mystery!  She’d pause momentarily to poke her tiny paws into the crack between the door & floorboards that was waiting patiently for a threshold, perhaps in search of some unseen treasure, & then return to running her laps.  When she tired of this game, she’d eventually pIMG_0563erch by the door & stare into the big, wide world outside, taking in the picturesque landscapes & events of nature that truly reflect rural, New England living. I think this is where her love of looking out the windows first began, so over time, I encouraged it with comfortable baskets & pillow beds near all her favorite spots so not only could gazing out upon her kindgdom* be enjoyable, it could also be comfortable! Ever since she was a “bitten,” Ellery has always been watching the world from behind curtains & cozy window seats. How is it, I have often wondered, that she never grows bored of this one-sided perspective on the world? Well maybe, unbeknownst to me, it’s because others have been watching back.

Once I caught Ellery flirting with my lawn guy. Yeah, not quite the same as when you find your teenage daughter flirting with the lawn guy, but it was flirting, nonetheless! I’d only had her a month or two at that point. I had asked my lawn guy to come & see if he could remove the tree that was growing through my dilapidated back deck. We were outside together examining the tree & discussing the various options for removal when out of the corner of my eye, something moving grabbed my attention. You guessed it – Ellery!  There she was in all her tiny-ness, sitting at the back door batting her little eyelashes, with one paw daintily waving in the air as if to say, “Hello there, handsome!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing & even the lawn guy had to chuckle. “That’s quite the charmer you have there, Ma’am!” he told me. So there I stood watching as my kitten made the lawn guy swoon. Who’da thunk it? Ellery was completely in her glory having this little dalliance with someone new on the other side of the glass. It truly was charming, so I let her have her moment in the spotlight.  After all, other than that one incident, most of Ellery’s window interactions had only been with me or various outdoor wildlife venturing too close to the house. Or so I thought! So over time, I simply forgot how engaging Ellery could be through a glass window….until one special day when all that changed.

Everything seemed to hum along in the days & weeks that followed my shop opening. With all the kinks worked out, my bell performed perfectly & shop business increased day by day. Ellery continued to acclimate herself to her new life & surroundings, & slowly she was growing up. She remained my loyal companion, proudly greeting “her mama” at the door after each business transaction I made in my new shop.  As the summer went on, shop activity kept me happily trotting back & forth between the two buildings, & I usually found myself heading back into the house just as my customers were driving away. I’d give them a wave from the driveway & often took note that many were having a good look at my house on their way out. I enjoyed seeing them point & comment, smiling at the changes & improvements to this old place. With foolish & egotistical pride, I was certain they were appreciating the lovely landscaping I had done, or maybe the old-fashioned-style new, front door, & other wonderful fruits of my renovation labor. This went on for some time until one day late in the summer as I hurried back inside, it occurred to me that customers were always smiling & pointing in what appeared to be the same direction of the house – the dining room windows that overlooked the driveway. Then another revelation hit me – the same customers who were looking & pointing at the house were also the same ones becoming my shop regulars. How had I not noticed these things before? When I got inside, it also dawned on me that Ellery hadn’t been greeting me at the door in her customary manner for some time. Curious about all of these coincidences, I immediately called out to her & heard a small “mew” come from somewhere in the dining room. So I went in & there, right in the front w indow was Ellery….with her little paw waving familiarly in the air while she batted her best Betty Davis eyes at my departing customers! She was absolutely charming their socks off!   All this time I had proudly & mistakenly thought it was my wonderful house renovation that had captivated the locals & kept them coming back. I had no idea it was Ellery! Who’da thunk this 1 1/2 pound bundle of fur I brought home on a whim would one day be my greatest business asset……& my very own Antique Shop Charmer! If only every girl were so lucky. Well, only every Antique Shop Girl, that is!!!!

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The Antique Shop Charmer

* Many thanks to L, B & J for letting me “borrow” this great analogy!! ♥

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Just Joining the Adventure?

If you’re just joining the Adventures of Antique Shop Girl, might I suggest you first go back to the beginning to catch up? My next post contains a few references to my earlier posts and I wouldn’t want you to be in the dark this early into the journey. Just a suggestion…. Thank you for joining the fun & happy reading!! ♥

Flora’s Gift

I remember with pride so many of my early customers after I initially opened the antique shop and, of course, my first ever sale. Who wouldn’t? There is one customer, however, who will always remain quite significant to me because my experience with her really married the whole romantic notion of having an antique shop business alongside my venerable New England home. As time goes by, I have grown quite smitten with both.

Most customers who visit my shop seem to follow the same funny protocol when arriving, I have observed. They hesitantly drive in, almost nervous that they might be intruding on someone else’s private property, park their cars, slowly step out and look around as if to expect an uncertain doom for being in a place they maybe shouldn’t….even though there are two very welcoming signs at the bottom of the driveway and two more at the entrance to the shop. I get a kick out of this, mainly because I’ve sometimes done the same thing myself when I have stopped at roadside antique shops in my travels. When customers arrive, my practice is to greet folks immediately with much friendliness and enthusiasm. Their uneasiness quickly melts away as a discussion of a.) the beautiful weather we are having today, or b.) oh, my….how charming your shop is (my personal favorite) quickly ensues. On one particular day though, a car approached me as I came out of the shop and it was anything but this goofy, unspoken rule of ambivalence antiquers seem to abide by on occasion. Instead, this car came confidently up the driveway at a decent pace and whipped into a parking spot with an air of dexterity. As soon as the car had stopped, a woman popped out almost instantly and exclaimed to me, “My mother couldn’t wait to come here!!” She then zipped over to the passenger side to let out an elderly woman who I could only assume was her mom.

I watched as the much older of the two women came out of the car and stood on the driveway, patiently waiting for her daughter to retrieve a purse. Her hair was a snowy white, the beautiful kind I hope to have some day when I’m brave enough to stop coloring mine. Pale skin and soft, sweet features accentuated her dark eyes which I couldn’t help but to notice seemed intently focused on something that, for some reason, I could not also see. Clearly she was standing there on my driveway, but her eyes told me she was somewhere else. I smiled warmly and said, “Welcome!” and her eyes refocused on the here and now, just as her daughter bustled over to us, talkative and bubbly, chirping, “Oh it’s such a big deal to finally be here! My mother has wanted me to bring her to your shop ever since you put the sign up that said your opening date. I just couldn’t do it right away even though she kept asking. What an ordeal!” she laughed. I assured them both I was very glad they were here now and invited them to come inside.

For someone who had so desperately wanted to come to my shop, the elderly woman, whose name I learned from polite introductions was Flora, seemed to lack any interest or excitement once she stepped inside. On the other hand, her daughter was delighted with everything and continued her idle banter with me as she walked all around the shop picking up items with child-like squeals, showing her mother and me her finds, and sharing the memories they brought back to her. All the while her mother quietly followed behind, not looking at or saying much, just a small nod in her daughter’s direction from time to time. To say the least, I was perplexed. Why had she wanted to come here so badly when she clearly appeared more melancholy rather than enchanted? It just seemed rather peculiar given everything her daughter had been telling me. Then I saw her stop in front of a jelly cupboard, staring with same intensity as she did earlier when she first stepped out of the car on the driveway. Flora stood in front of that cupboard for the longest time, now oblivious to her daughter’s chatter and to another customer who had just arrived, but this time I could see the object of her attention – an old string of sleigh bells I had hung on its open, front door. I watched and wondered what it was about them that had captivated her. (continued after photo)

antique pointed horse bells

antique pointed horse bells

Many minutes had passed with Flora still in front of that cupboard door, and thankfully I could busy myself with a purchase at the counter and the ongoing conversation from her daughter so that she wouldn’t notice me watching her! Eventually Flora made her way over to me in a determined manner, but when she reached the counter she turned back to face the old cupboard again with some degree of pensiveness. “Did you find something you liked?” I asked but Flora did not respond. I was starting to think something was truly wrong with this poor woman when finally she spoke.

“You know,” she began, “the gentleman who lived here used to court me,” she said. “Yes, he courted me back when we were all in school together,” she added with a poignant smile. My eyes lit up instantly with this glimmer of history about my house I had sentimentally longed to discover for some time yet never had. I was thrilled and riveted at the same time. I wanted to yell, “You had me at ‘you know!’ ” but I couldn’t say a word, so I encouraged Flora on with an approving expression and she did not disappoint.

“He would drive his sled and horses over ten miles to my house just to take me sleigh riding in the winter,” she told me, “and he always made sure the horses wore plenty of bells. He knew how much I enjoyed that,” she almost giggled and I nearly fainted dead away. Perhaps because there’s an old horse shoe that’s been hanging on an original log stud for luck in my dirt cellar since the late 1800’s. My heart leapt – was it from one of his horses? Or perhaps because her little story transported me back in time to DeSmet, South Dakota and I was suddenly being whisked up and down Main Street with my good friend, Mary Power, in a red sleigh with horse bells driven by Almanzo Wilder and his pal, Cap Garland. I mean, really, what girl has not dreamed of being Laura Ingalls Wilder in THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS at some point in her young life? Or middle-something life? Er….anyway, I’m an absolute sucker for a romantic story and this one just blew me away because it was about someone who lived in MY house – MY “little house on the prairie,” so to speak. And at that moment I was falling in love….falling in love with Flora and her gentleman courter, falling in love with long-awaited history about the place I had worked so hard to call home, and falling in love all over again with my dream of owning a little antique shop beside the infamous house that made this wonderful story of Flora’s possible. I couldn’t have been more starry-eyed!

Then it was Flora who became the chatty one and I could see quickly how daughter was actually like mother. There were so many details for Flora to reveal to me, and so many questions I wanted to ask! Well aware of my home’s previous ownership, I learned her gentleman friend with the sleigh had been the son of the second owner, Mr. Cartwright. How exciting! Flora and he, along with ten others, had all gone to school together in the nearby town of Pratt. Flora had been to my house many times when it was a prosperous farm, and is the only living person I know to have seen the house in its entirety, including the huge, attached barn with the stream running through it. Triple exciting! I hung on her every word, repeatedly infatuated with every specific she could happily recall for me. Her comments, her recollections, her gestures about this old place painted a clearer picture than any photograph could for which I had been searching. Now I understood why Flora had wanted to come here, and while her visit had turned out to be an unexpected gift for me, the fact that she had kept me spellbound in her stroll down memory lane had obviously been a gift for her, too.

I could have talked with Flora for hours but eventually her daughter decided on an item to buy and so I needed to ring her up. I had to laugh to myself when she reached for the wrapped parcel she had just bought and said with a casual after thought, “Oh, did my mom tell you she’s been here before?” Of all the things she had chit-chatted about earlier, that might have been something to mention right off. I just chuckled softly and said, “Why yes, she certainly did!”

With purchase in tow, I walked them both to their car in the pleasant, afternoon sunshine. Before getting in, Flora paused to view the shop once more as well as the field behind it with that familiar, distant look in her eyes. Without averting her gaze she said matter of factly, “I’m the only one left now from my class. They’re all gone.” I was so sad for her! I took her hand and she looked into my eyes. I thanked her sincerely for coming and sharing her special memories with me….and I promised her two things – 1.) that I would make sure to tell her story to others so it would never be forgotten, and 2.) that I would always sell sleigh bells in my antique shop in honor of her. Ever so slightly her eyes brightened and she nodded to me her appreciation as she got into the car. The car engine turned over and her daughter called out the open window, “My mother really had a great time coming here!” and with a wave of her hand, off they went. (continued after photo)

antique petal horse bells ~ click on photo to learn more

antique petal horse bells ~ click on photo to learn more

As I watched them drive away, I walked slowly into my house with a smile on my face and nothing but romance in my heart. Like Flora I glanced back toward my shop and the field behind it. In my mind’s eye I could almost see the massive barn that had once stood there, and I swear to this day, I was quite certain I heard the faint sound of jingle bells….

Here It Comes….There It Goes!

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When I was 21, I stopped into dilapidated antique store I passed every day on my way to work &  bought my first antique – an old cabinet card of a young girl with her arm around a dog. I fell in love with that little card….with its story that I could only imagine & with someone else’s history I was holding right there in my hands. From that moment forward I wanted to have an antique store of my own so that I could always offer others a similar, magical journey into the past. Flash forward twenty-I’m-not-saying-how-many years and my dream became a reality. Slowly.

Where I live in the north east is prime country for having the classic road-side antique shop next to your quintessential New England house – preferably in the big old barn standing beside it. Fortunately for me, I live in an historic, 126 year old cape that once was renowned for its rambling L shape and massive, attached barn with a stream running through it. Unfortunately for me, that barn burned to the ground some time in the late 1950’s, taking most of the house with it. All that remains is the original portion of the house – my lovely cape – and this town’s memory of a prosperous, beautiful farm in its heyday. It was going to take some ingenuity to turn a “what’s wrong with this picture?” situation into the perfect setting for my antique shop.

When this house was purchased it was in a state of disrepair. It had been abandoned. The roof leaked. An assortment of critters had taken up residence in the attic. The plumbing & heating were shot. The electricity consisted of a few hanging wires & sockets. There was no insulation. The kitchen had water damage & the upstairs, equal amounts of fire damage. The windows were the originals & air flowed freely through them even though they wouldn’t open.  There were four layers of filthy carpet and double the layers of stained wallpaper on the walls. The once gorgeous, terraced rock gardens were a jungled nightmare. Garbage was strewn about the property. A tree was growing up through the crumbling back porch. The front door was hanging by one hinge. I could continue but I think you’ve got it. So when I referred to “my lovely cape” above, what I really meant was….it’s lovely now! And when I referred to “ingenuity” afterwards…..well, that actually turned out to be blood, sweat & tears, not to mention the other, overused cliché – time & money.

After the house was completely gutted, it was charmingly & quite cleverly rebuilt from the inside out – taking advantage of every possible use of space & lovingly reusing or repurposing any materials & architectural components that could be salvaged. More so, thousands of hours, it seems, were spent in the gardens trying to rejuvenate & restore them to their former beauty & glory. While it continues to be a work in progress, it is a tremendous improvement over its former state. Even more gratifying are the enthusiastic comments & compliments from passersby, neighbors & community folks who have patiently awaited & watched its slow but wonderful transformation.

So while the house & grounds were becoming pretty as a picture & welcoming for potential customers, there remained the one, kind-of big issue of not having a barn to use for a shop. It was a conundrum, to say the least, but basically boiled down to only two options – build or buy. After serious deliberation, the latter was chosen. While it sounds relatively simple, it simply was not. First, the grounds needed to be prepped to withstand a building. That entailed measurement, excavation & creating a solid pad on which it would rest. A deep & long trench also needed to be dug from the house to where the building would stand in order to have the shop wired for electricity. Plants & grass were moved & destroyed in that process, so there was many a day spent replanting & re-seeding lawn, sometimes in the pouring rain, just to be sure there would be flowers & grass by the time I opened my shop. And let’s not forget picking out an actual barn in its entirety. So many choices! So many details! But they were all decided upon after much time & consideration….& I’m proud to say four words I never thought I’d utter in my lifetime……”I bought a barn!” You may wonder to yourself, “What happens after all that?” because it certainly IS an awful lot of THAT.  Well, essentially you just wait for the day the barn is to be delivered & try not to have heart failure in anticipation!

It was a gorgeous spring day in April when the barn was scheduled to arrive. I was assured delivery would be at 2:00 p.m., so I was outside & waiting on my front stoop half an hour early because I could not contain my excitement. I sat there contemplating everything I had been through up to this point, & while it seemed like this moment should mark the culmination of a very long story, I realized it actually was the beginning of a whole other adventure…..opening my antique shop. I was beside myself. I was overcome. I was verklempt. And then I saw it. I saw a procession coming up the road. I saw a  flatbed trailer coming up the road lead by a state-required safety vehicle. Oh my God, I saw my barn on a huge truck that said “wide load” coming towards me!!! I hopped right up & I think I kept on hopping. I waved furiously as this large, lights-flashing entourage approached me & my house. It was here!!!  It was here!! I couldn’t believe it was finally here!!!! And then….it kept on going. My stunning barn went right past me & kept on going up a small hill until everything disappeared into the mountainscape & I was left standing there in the immense quiet that always follows some type of catastrophic event, with my mouth wide open, trying to figure out what had just happened.

Two seconds later I was on the phone with the barn company attempting to ascertain just that. Where exactly was my barn going?  What was going on? A nice lady told me she would have to hang up & try to contact the truck driver &  call me back.  More waiting. More silence. Much pacing. Then my phone rang! It seems someone had accidentally written a one in front of my house number on the delivery instructions. Although I had been certain the driver had seen me waving like a nut outside the correct location, he still thought the address to be much further up the road &  had driven onward out of sight. Now who was the nut? So it was more like 3:00 p.m. when  all was said & done because a long, rural road is really not the best scenario for turning around a wide load. But this was successfully maneuvered somehow (I never asked) & the entourage was properly redirected back to me.  I will never forget how incredibly breathtaking it was to behold the pomp & circumstance with which my barn finally made its descent down the hill & truly arrived on my property. One small step for the delivery guy. One giant leap for Antique Shop Girl. Now that I had the proper, quintessential setting in place, I could at last fulfill my dream of opening an antique business. This, of course, is just the beginning of the story…. (continued after photo)

Finally coming back down the hill to its new home.

Finally coming back down the hill to its new home.

There is so much to learn from this initial saga, from my first, rather huge adventure as an Antique Shop Girl. If I had to reflect on only one aspect, however, this would be it: Having a dream is pretty much like holding an antique in your hand for the first time….holding an object or memento, as it were, from someone else’s life that whispers of past dreams &  accomplishments….things that were once here & now are gone. One minute you see dreams unfolding before you, & in the next they can just as easily disappear almost as quickly as they appeared. So don’t take any step toward a dream for granted. Cherish each milestone. Laugh through the sweat & tears. Be proud of your efforts & what they’ve achieved. And share that story with many so that your dream lives on & inspires others long after you are gone. Just like an antique in your hand.

Welcome!

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The Adventures of Antique Shop Girl will make its debut on May 1, 2013. Sign up NOW to follow Antique Shop Girl and receive email updates when new posts are published. How? Find the button to your right that says “Follow Antique Shop Girl.” Type your email address into the box above it & click the button – that’s it! Thank you in advance for your interest in joining the adventure!