Sweeter with time
- ONLINE EXCLUSIVE -
Story by Amy Holm
A bell jingles above the door as a woman walks in to Etta’s Attic on the corner of Bay and Holly streets. She takes care not to trip over a large oil painting on the floor, haphazardly leaning against a large case of jewelry.
A woman behind the counter greets her with a bright smile and says, “Are you looking for anything specific today?” The woman shakes her head and says she’s just looking around.
To the right of the counter, a light brown wooden case with shallow shelves is mounted to the wall and holds a jumble of ceramic thimbles, teacups, broaches and pins. Ten ornately decorated, one-of-a-kind lamps hang from the ceiling and illuminate the vintage earrings on a tabletop directly below the shelf. Shafts of afternoon sunlight stream in the windows and set jeweled necklaces aglow, hanging from a glass cabinet in the corner.
A quarter of the United States population collects something, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. A third of these people invest in antiques. Antiques are popular to collect because they’re rare. A house decorated with expensive contemporary furniture may look nice, but the same pieces can be recreated to meet a demand – an antique is different.
Antique shops hold mystery for those who believe some pieces only get sweeter with time. They tell a story about the past revealing the way things have changed over the years. These pieces are often passed down from generation to generation, each one adding another chapter to the story.
Sharon Quast, the owner of Etta’s Attic, can’t help but go into an antique mall looking for what her mom or grandmother had. “That’s what draws people in a lot. They like to relive what they’ve seen before,” she says.
Quast, interested in antiques since 18, has had antique booths for 20 years and was able to see what sold and how much it sold for. She also worked the costume jewelry counter at Bon Marche in Tacoma, Wash., as well as a few other jobs, for seven years before opening her own store. “I lived and breathed jewelry,” she says.
She learned to recognize the details on certain pieces of jewelry to identify which time period it came from. She does in depth research so she can give customers as much information as possible about each item in her inventory.
The shop was named after Quast’s grandmother, Etta, who watched her while her mom worked and was a special mentor in her life. She estimates she went over 1,300 names for her shop, but kept coming back to her grandmother.
Her favorite part about owning a store is finding that special thing for that one person.
“I try really hard to find the right piece for everyone that walks in here so that everyone will truly love it,” she says. Quast often puts things on hold or layaway if she knows that someone really wants a certain piece.
She says a china hutch, almost seven feet tall, has been on layaway for a year because a customer is paying it off. It was in Quast’s own home before she brought it into the shop. The detailed flowery pattern carved into the dark wood and the original brass drawer handles suggest it’s from as early as 1905. The small bubbles in the rounded glass windows show the glass was hand-blown. She doesn’t often hold items for that long, but this way she knows it’s going to the right person.
Quast also likes to pick out pieces for people. She says one day a man came in looking for a gift for his girlfriend. Quast had him describe her likes, and then helped him pick out three scatter owl pins. She ran into the couple a few days later; the woman was wearing her new pins and raved about them. Quast knows jewelry is something small customers can take home and it won’t clutter the house.
Turn of the century and mid-century pieces are big right now, she says. Jeweled pins are popular with the college students. There are many different styles in Bellingham, and Quast says college-aged women come in and find unique pieces in her shop in order to look individual.
Quast thinks it’s great being surrounded by other antique stores. She says she talked to every single owner multiple times before opening her store to get a feel for the area. No sense of competition exists between the stores. If a customer can’t seem to find that one piece, Quast points down the road where they might be able to find what they’re looking for.
Lavaliers, delicate necklaces from the turn of the century, are her favorite pieces in the shop. Some of the lavaliers in her store are more than 100 years old. “This is what I would call timeless,” she says.
“They’ll never go out of fashion. They’re pristine and one of a kind.”
Quast is dedicated to finding the perfect piece for someone. “
I love when someone brings in an outfit and I’m able to help them find a great accessory for it,” she says.
If her store doesn’t have what someone’s looking for, she’ll refer them to one of the many other antique stories in the area.
“I like to tell people that things will be loved again,” Quast says. “It gets another life here.”
The other antique shops in the area also have an opportunity to revive these forgotten objects. Lyndsey Berglund has owned Penny Lane at 312 West Holly St. for the past 10 years. Her store is a little different because she carries brand new stuff with the antiques.
“I like classic designs, classic function and quality made. That’s what makes something valuable,” she says.
The new paper lines, such as posters, postcards, and stationary, sell the best. She also carries handmade pieces and vintage pieces from the 1930s to the 1970s. She says, because of her age, she has a different perspective on antiques that make her store a little bit different than the ones in the area.
At 18 years old, before moving her store downtown, Berglund rented a train car in the center of Fairhaven, where her most popular items sold were vintage t-shirts and vinyl records. She lived in the back and went to Whatcom Community College.
“I was thinking I needed a degree for something. I didn’t think the store would work out,” Berglund says. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
Berglund likes having lots of other antique stores around her, the more the merrier she says. She says she hangs out with her neighbor, the owner of Bellingham Bay Collectibles, most days. Claudette Job, owner of Old Town Antique Mall across the street, helped her from the ground up she says.
The fuzzy sweaters, silky skirts and adorned belts in Berglund’s shop once hung in the back of a closet, taking up space. But they’ve found their way back into a store and back into style. Someone who sees the value in them will pick one up and realize, though it had little significance in its day, it tells a story and holds clues to the past.