Vintage Venture

By Stacy Davies

Posted April 1, 2010 in Arts & Culture

Last Sunday, the Historic Fox theatre in the Pomona Arts Colony screened The Wizard of Oz (which premiered there in 1939) for a flock of over 600 people who routinely broke into applause (when Toto escaped the picnic basket and the Witch), cheers (when Witchy melted into a puddle of sulfur) and laughter (that Cowardly Lion really never gets old). Oz, of course, can be rented at any time, from any video store, in any town—so what made a horde of folks pay $2 apiece to see a film they’ve seen at least a dozen times before? History.

No matter how far we progress down our light-speed path of technology and transformation, history does have meaning for many of us; things that tap into our desire to connect to the past, to a time that we may have lived through or one we merely wish we had, and above all, evoke an appreciation for what has come before—things that were made with great care and skill, and built to last.

Nowhere in Pomona is this vintage venture more accessible than in Antique Row—a stretch of avenue lined with a dozen shops buying and selling pieces of the past. Walking through the shops, I found myself immersed in an overwhelming array of humanity: Lovely velvet ladies’ opera coats with woven rope buttons, cases of German beer steins depicting forest hunters with a wily fox as the handle, Zippos and agate marbles, gas masks and mammy jars, a Boy Scout Morse code “signal set,” Victrolas and dial phones, scary dolls with scary hair and an entire box of “Aunt Sally’s Original Creole Pralines”—pralines not included, I hope.

Other purveyors of memories also meandered through these treasures—discovering things they’d never seen before and some they were sure they had. One middle-aged woman peering into a glass case called out to her husband: “Oh my goodness . . . “ she gasped, “that’s my mother’s purse . . .” She quickly asked the owner to unlock the case.

The people who run these shops are a rare breed, too. Janis and Ken Usher helm the Pomona Antique Center—and vendor Jennie, who just turned 75, likes to sit up front and help out. Ken and Jennie are both retired school teachers and Jennie still subs in L.A. occasionally; she laughed when I asked how long the store had been there. “It’s moved around so many times!” she said. ”We call it a gypsy profession.”

Mary Lou, owner of Persnickity Antiquity, a business started 35 years ago with her recently deceased friend Lydia, winked when I asked her why she keeps going: “I’m too dumb to give it up,” she said, and added, “There are a lot of wonderful people around here—customers who’ve come since their kids were little and now their kids come with their children.” She spent the day watching over these special visitors, feeding them donuts.

Bob and Dorothy St. John of St. John’s Antiques have been on the row 13 years. “I retired after 30 years as an engineer for the gas company,” John says, “and that lasted about 90 days. I couldn’t do it. Hobbies aren’t any fun when you have to rely on them.” Dorothy is a retired airplane inspector for Lockheed Martin. “I love airplanes,” she sighed, “I miss them. I used to drill and rivet, everything.” John chimed in with a poke, “Yeah, once she got that job she was always finding something wrong with my plane and I’d tell her, ‘Just leave it alone!’”

Over at Autumn Leaves, you’ll not only find a host of fishing poles—enough for an entire fleet of seamen—but you’ll meet owners Randy and Karen Kemble, and “Pops” Eugene, manning the counter. Both Randy and Karen are retired from the aerospace industry and Randy’s penchant for fishing tackle (which he started collecting when he was in his 20s) is gloriously displayed along the back wall over the register.

One of my last stops was at Kaiser Bill’s Military Emporium—run by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dave George. Dave pointed out that he is not a surplus store—those are places for discarded military items. His is a collectable venture—and his ultra rare Nazi helmets (going for $450), real Soviet uniforms and an array of edged weapons and swords (Dave’s favorites) attest to it. He also has grenades, I learned, after a customer asked him how much they went for. “Can’t sell ‘em,” he said, matter-of-factly, “[The] State of California requires I fill them with concrete, and I’ve never gotten around to it.” I quickly bid Dave adieu.

And that’s merely the tip of the quill. The stories and people, both the living and the ones who remain only in essence, fill the Row and serve not only as reminders of our personal memories, but most importantly, as testaments to our shared humanity.

Antique Row is located at Second Street and Garey Avenue, Pomona;


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