There are things from my childhood here, and other antique finds: Culture: Smile politely

Every time I stop in Flying Machine Avionics on First Street in Champaign, I notice the strange store next door. It’s still closed. i think it’s still summer firm. If you peek through the dusty windows of First Street Antiques, you’ll see tables and shelves filled with items that haven’t moved in years. If anyone knows what the story is here I would love to hear it.

It made me think of the world of antique dealers. I’ve walked through a few of them in my life – as a kid and as an adult – and I’ve always been a bit intrigued and a bit bewildered by them. I’m not much of a collector, and I’m definitely not a handyman who is interested in finding great old pieces and how to fit them into my home. I am in awe of the people doing this and I would love to be that person.

However, I love scavenger hunts, and antique shops are great for that sort of thing. This week I took I-74 to Mercantile Antiques & Trade Co. in St. Joseph to browse and chat with co-owner Debbie Calvo. Barely opened on a Tuesday morning, the store was quiet, giving Calvo and I the opportunity to discuss the store and his experience with antiques. Calvo and his business partner Marion Feller met while working at the University of Illinois and discovered they had a common interest in heirlooms. They started selling items as sellers and then once the store owner decided to sell the business they became antique store owners. They have now been at their current location for 18 years.

Calvo calls antique dealers “the original consignment stores” and says they have come a long way over the years. “We are not your grandmother’s antique store.” Several vendors have set up stands in the store, and each is unique. Yes, you can find the collectibles – coke bottles, lighters, figurines, etc. But you can also find refurbished furniture, handmade items and cooking utensils, as well as bath and body products and food items. Mercantile even has its own DIY paint line. No need to be a collector to shop there. This can be an opportunity to find well made and interesting pieces for your home. Located just off the highway and frequented by shoppers who love to travel for their treasures, Calvo likes to have a bit of everything. “There is still a lot that is usable, and I think that’s maybe what we sell the most.”

An open wooden box filled with metal and wooden tools.  Photo by Julie McClure.An old plumber’s kit. Photo by Julie McClure.

When antique collectors walk through the door, they can search for a wide variety of items.

“It’s so wide … the other day we had someone collecting pencil sharpeners.” We have people who collect cast iron pans, people who collect Pyrex, people who collect Zippo lighters, people who collect coins … We call these “mantics”.

I walked around the store after our conversation, wandering in and out of each section. I’m sure I could have stayed longer. There is so much to see and it is fascinating to see the collections of items that each vendor has amassed. It’s a bit like walking through a museum. This is why I was a little dismayed to find so many objects from my childhood there. In an antique store. Then I remembered that yes, these items really are relics, and I took a minute to come to terms with that fact.

A toy barn with a white plastic roof with a red base.  The barn doors are slightly open and there are plastic farm toys inside.  It sits on a brown wooden shelf.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.
Two glass cups with Garfield's orange cartoons sit side by side on a shelf.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.
An album cover featuring a blue sky, clouds and a rainbow.  Kermit the Frog and Mrs. Piggy are sitting in a boat on the water.  It is written The Muppet Movie at the top.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Vintage kitchen gadgets are wild.

A white plastic disc with square cutouts is tucked away in a yellow and blue sleeve with an image of a pie on it.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.
A small rectangular box has a photo of a cylinder with an egg in it, and a cube-shaped egg next to it.  The box says Egg Cuber.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

You can find clothes here and there. I am obsessed with this nightgown. Put on some curlers and face cream and it’s quite a vibe.

A pink, see-through nightgown hangs from a white plastic hanger.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

You can also find amazing pieces like this Victrola.

A turntable rests on a square base in light wood.  There is a record on the turntable.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Start your hobby by playing the bagpipes. The people in your household will love it.

A red rectangular box has drawings of pipers on it.  It is written Piper Chanting Kit in white capital letters.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

If you’re a University of Illinois memorabilia collector, you’ll find plenty of them here … even cinnamon! Okay, maybe the cinnamon isn’t specifically U of I, but it’s orange and blue and was distributed to Champaign by Eisner’s (now Jewel-Osco).

Two books are placed side by side in a box.  One has an orange blanket and a man in uniform on the blanket.  It says Photo by Julie McClure.
Two rectangular cinnamon containers are side by side on a shelf.  It has orange and blue stripes on it and says University Brand.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

It is worth the 15 to 20 minute trip east to discover the treasures of Merchantile Antiques. Make it a day and have a meal at The Wheelhouse or Scratch Kitchen or Geschenk Coffee, Cafe, and Gifts.

Merchantile Antiques & Trade Co.
302 Northgate Dr.
Saint Joseph
T-Sat 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Top photo by Julie McClure.
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