Decades ago, roadside antique shops dotted Northern Nevada’s landscape, from Reno’s north valleys south to Douglas County.
Many baby boomers and their parents collected everything from Victorian furniture to European figurines; from toys to casino memorabilia. Antique buffs prowled local shops in search of treasures and items missing from their collections. But as those generations aged, their offspring had less interest in the 100-year-old artifacts. Economic recessions also took a bite out of peoples’ disposable incomes and tanked the value of many collectables.
Then came the Web, which allowed collectors and antique enthusiasts to shop anywhere in the world without leaving their homes. Prices of some collectables came down when objects thought to be extremely rare were suddenly common online. Tastes changed; store rents skyrocketed. Stand-alone antique stores faded away.
Yet the business remains viable. Many brick and mortar shops became online stores. When rents soared, others leased space in antique malls. Boutique shops specialize in vintage clothing and retro items. Younger people may not want to collect oak furniture or 1950s Formica tables, but because of their beauty and sturdy construction, many would rather use those pieces in their homes than furniture made from laminated particle board. People buy art deco items and 1960s kitchen ware not for display, but to be used.
“The internet changed the antique business forever, but it isn’t going anywhere,” said Mark Scott, a retired antique dealer from Douglas County. “It’s changed, and you have to bob and weave to make money, but the (demand for antiques) is still there.”
National trends are favorable: a recent survey by Homes & Gardens indicates Americans’ interest in antique stores rose 50% in 2021, while the number of antique auctions increased 80%.
In the Truckee Meadows, antique collectors and browsers who prefer hands-on shopping over surfing internet auctions have many brick-and-mortar businesses from which to choose.
Antique, vintage and retro
The Nest, a boutique at 201 Keystone Ave. in Reno, has found its niche in the antique and collectables market by specializing in vintage items that are about 25-30 years old, as well as “retro” pieces—classic styles made modern.
Gregory Belle Jr., The Nest’s manager, said his customers are all about style. Patrons come in looking for vintage clothing, including old denim, cardigans and Victorian-style gunnysack dresses.
“Bell bottoms are always in style,” he noted. “And people like cardigans, from sweaters to sweater vests.”
CorningWare, Pyrex, old Tupperware and living room and kitchen furniture also are popular items.
“This stuff was made really well,” Belle said, referring to a kitchen table made in the 1960s. “No plastic went into this. It looks as good now as the day it was made.”
Other vintage items find new life: Apple or milk crates become book cases; cigar boxes can be used to store art supplies, jewelry or other small items; vintage clothing can be worn right off the rack.
“It’s about style,” Belle said. “Fashion and function.”
Junkee Clothing Exchange, at 960 S. Virginia St., specializes in vintage clothing and costumes, but also has a 15,000 square-foot antiques section called Chasing Yesterday that features repurposed furniture, collectibles, gifts, dolls, jewelry and decades-old antiques.
Tanner’s Marketplace hosts antique shows at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center five times a year; they attract local dealers and vendors and customers from all over the West. The next Tanner’s Marketplace is scheduled for May 20-21.
Randy Hallahan’s R&H Novelty and Antiques, at 1403 S. Arlington Ave. in Reno, specializes in antique slot machines from the 1920s to the 1960s. He also deals in antique gumball and vending machines, jukeboxes, player pianos and clocks.
A new antiques mall is slated for what was formerly an adult bookstore at 1052 S. Virginia St. It will be the third antique mall in the Truckee Meadows.
Treasures in the malls
Phillip Grundhauser, who owns Somewhere in Time antique mall at 1313 S. Virginia St. in Reno, became interested in antiques as a boy, when he accompanied his mom to flea markets. He began by collecting American coins and matchbooks, and started dealing in antiques online—mostly toy trucks and World War II military items—about 20 years ago. Ten years ago, he bucked an industry trend by opening a brick-and-mortar antique mall that now boasts 15 vendors.
“The internet changed the business; there’s not much you can’t find online,” Grundhauser said. “But there’s still life left for stores. People still want to look, feel and touch, especially when it comes to antiques and collectables, and you can’t be sure of what you are getting online. And people still want that antique-store atmosphere. We greet you, help you, and we know about what we’re selling. We don’t have quite everything in the mall, but darn near.”
Then there’s that sense of discovery that can only come from browsing among hundreds of items.
“It’s a hunt; there’s always that possibility of finding an unexpected treasure,” Grundhauser said. “When people come in to browse, very few walk out empty-handed. There’s so much here that something catches their eye and gives them another idea.”
The browsers often are folks from the baby boomer generation, he said. Younger patrons sometimes come in looking for items they remember from their childhoods, he said, but a lot of times, “they want to find something they think is cool. They are looking to save things from the dump.”
Their mindset, Grundhauser said, is centered on repurposing, recycling and reusing old items. “They get into the retro stuff and make it into something else. I see a lot of that. They will say, ‘That’s really cool-looking,’ rather than commenting on the age of the items.”
Although the market for antique furniture is a ghost of what it was 30 years ago, the wooden pieces remain popular, albeit for much lower prices. “People buy the old stuff because it’s well built, beautiful, and it’s been around for a while—not necessarily because it was made in England in 1854,” Grundhauser said.
The antiques and vintage items at Somewhere in Time don’t need repairs, he said, and customers aren’t looking for an investment. “Now it’s more about using it than waiting for appreciation,” he said. “Our shop makes sure everything in working order, fixed up and ready to go. They don’t want to fix it or rewire it; (they want) to plug it in as is.”
‘Loch Ness Monster’ of gaming antiques
In December 2021, Sharon Nickson and her and her husband, Boyd Cox, opened Antiques and Treasures ROCK Antique Mall at 540 S. Rock Blvd. in Sparks. They had operated the antique mall in the old Parker’s Western Wear building in downtown Reno until the building was sold.
The shop, which is open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving, specializes in fine art and jewelry and has an extensive section devoted to World War II military items and books. The mall’s 15 vendors offer all kinds of other vintage pieces and collectables for sale, from casino-related memorabilia, to clocks, china, Victorian-era furniture, swords, postage stamps, comic books and vinyl records.
Nickson said people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s often are interested in the things they loved in childhood, “like Star Wars or Pokémon items, Garbage Pail Kids or the old Nintendos (or) PlayStations and the old games that go to them. … We don’t have a dealer for those right now, but that’s one of the hottest things going on in the market.”
Barbie dolls; high-end sterling silver and gold estate jewelry; and knives and swords also move off the shelves fast, she said, and locals love casino-related memorabilia. The highest-priced item in the mall is the antique equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster, she said, something that everyone has heard about but no one ever sees—a rigged roulette wheel from the 1930s that used electromagnets to cheat players.
“I know what I paid for it, and I know it’s been appraised at $250,000,” Nickson said. “It’s one of a kind, but it comes down to what someone will pay for it, not what someone else says it’s worth.”
The antique business has taken a beating during the last couple of decades, but it isn’t about to go extinct, she said. And the dealers who remain help each other.
“We send each other customers all the time,” Nickson said. “If someone is looking for old tools or other rustic stuff, we’ll send them to Doug (Schuster) at Reno Antiques. For other things, we’ll send them to Junkee’s Clothing Exchange, Somewhere in Time or The Nest.
“If we don’t have what they are looking for, we’re going to try to find it. Whether they are looking for school lunch boxes or vintage clothing or whatever, we’ll help you. We want our customers to be happy.”