JACK AND MARY Ramsauer hold one of the antiques that can be found at their shop, Victorian House Antiques. It’s one of several antique stores in Princeton. Beth Pelland photo
By Ian Stepleton
I remember, 17 years ago when I was just a wee, green reporter, visiting Princeton.
Back then, the community was an antiquing haven!
Having grown up in a home where antiques were cherished, I recall visiting a number of the many antique stores and malls across the community with my (now) wife.
Along with the flea market, this was definitely one of the things Princeton was known for way back when.
I guess it seems to me a kind of chicken-or-the-egg scenario.
Did some dealers close up shop as interest in antiquing in Princeton waned?
Did visitors come to Princeton specifically for antiques just a bit less as fewer antique shops existed?
Someone far more experienced than me would have to answer that question.
But the bottom line is the same.
At least for a time, the antiquing tide ebbed in Princeton.
Fortunately, just like any good tide, it comes back in, too.
And that’s what’s going on these days in that community on the west side of Green Laker country.
More shops and more antique shoppers alike can be found in Princeton on any given day.
Just ask Mary Jarzynka of M&M Antiques, 501-A S. Fulton St.
“It was strong, I would think, 20 years ago when we started looking at antiques and collecting them, and when we’d come up to Princeton,” she said. “Fifteen years ago, it was very strong.
“Then I’d say the last five, six years, it’s been kind of slow.”
Theories differ, but one thought is the changing demographics of America, one Princeton dealer believes.
“It used to be a lot more people looking for antiques when the Baby Boomers were still out there,” said Jack Ramsauer of Victorian House Antiques, 330 W. Water St., Princeton. “In the last few years, it’s slowed down on a lot of it, except for a few categories.”
Fortunately, things seem to be changing.
“We’ve been noticing an increase the last year, at least for us,” Jarzynka said.
“It slowed down, and now it’s coming back,” Ramsauer agreed.
“Many people come to Princeton specifically for the antiques and spend a half a day or day roaming,” said Beth Pelland, director of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.
Antique lovers, if they stop into Princeton, are blessed with a variety of good shops to check out, such as River City Antiques, 328 S. Fulton St., Princeton.
“We’ve always been one to say that we feel that the more stores we have, in terms of antiques, the better,” said Pam Wolbright of River City Antiques. “We like to share the other locations in town.”
Customers, she explained, are drawn to good stores.
“Quality really brings people in,” she said. “If you have a nice, clean, quality location, it inspires people to come back to see what you have more of.”
When it comes to quality, though, it’s not just the shop that stands out, particularly with antiques.
“A lot of people talk about ‘quality’ nowadays, and how quality isn’t how it used to be,” Wolbright said. “It is [quality] if you look at an antique store. A quality antique store will have the quality you are looking for. They’ve survived many things … And it’s still beautiful, and it’s not something that can be reproduced.”
It’s also a great way to connect with local history, Jarzynka pointed out.
“That’s the part that I like. You can find some stuff that was made in Wisconsin [such as local sodas]. All the little towns in Wisconsin had their own soda plants …,” she said. “So, if you look at them, you see, ‘Oh, this was in Reedsburg,’ or the Dells.”
“Sometimes we get people who do come in looking for particular items,” Wolbright said. “We keep a book that’s called a ‘want list’ so that if we or our dealers are out and about, we can buy [desired items] as they come in.”
Furniture, as Ramsauer pointed out, historically has been in demand.
Even if they are a little … unique? Sure!
“The dining room set we sold … was on the Gothic side,” Wolbright said of one recent sale. “They have the big lions on them …”
It’s all in fun for the shop owners and the shoppers alike.
“Meeting the people, talking to them,” Jarzynka said of what she enjoys. “I like finding and seeing unusual things. It’s not the ordinaries that we sometimes get in … It’s the, ‘Gee, what the heck is that?’ type thing that’s interesting. ‘Farmers did what with that?’”
So, what could you go get right now?
All kinds of fun items.
“Right now? Oh, gee. We’ve got a couple of those old washing machines from the 1800s …,” Jarzynka said. “We’ve got some older signs, like Coke signs and Brinkley. We’ve got some old pin-up calendars from the 1940s. This was a normal calendar in the 1940s.”
And, as she pointed out, no reason the Coke sign has to stay “just” a Coke sign.
Why not get creative?
“What are you going to do with it? That’s another interesting conversation,” she said. “They’ll come in and repurpose it entirely.”
I guess, that means when shopping for antiques, you’re limited by just one thing: your own imagination.
So, what will you discover this summer in Princeton?