Antiquing: A Walk through Time

Is it shopping or a historical treasure hunt? For antique and vintage enthusiasts, it’s both. And at our region’s antique stores nostalgic finds come in abundance.

Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques

Hunting for antiques is as much about having fun as preserving history

Is it a shopping experience, a treasure hunt or a history lesson? You could argue that antiquing delivers a little bit from all three categories. From specialized shops to malls with hundreds of diverse vendors, this region’s antique stores showcase a large inventory of rare and fascinating wares that are looking for a new home.

One thing to keep in mind is that, while many people use the terms “antique” and “vintage” interchangeably, there is a difference. Antique items are generally at least 100 years old, while anything over 25 years old is considered vintage. Many stores carry both categories. Some even stock collectibles, reproductions, “flea market” finds and handmade objects.

Where to Go
Half the fun of walking into an antique store for the first time is not knowing exactly what you’ll find. Inventory changes sporadically, and with so many unique pieces in each shop, every visit is guaranteed to include something new. Antique stores come in all shapes, sizes and qualities. Some take painstaking care to curate the best selection. Others are a total grab bag. To give you a sense of the incredible variety around, here’s what you’ll find at five top-rated stores in northern Illinois.

Stop 1: Steeplechase Antiques
Steeplechase Antiques in Barrington carries a carefully curated blend of furniture, home decor and lighting.

Steeplechase Antiques

“I think what makes us stand out is we’ve stayed true to selling antiques,” says owner Karrin Olsson-DaBoll. “We don’t carry reproductions. We don’t carry any items made in China unless they’re Chinese antiques. I do have vintage items, but I don’t carry mid-century modern at all, which is from the 1950s. I try to stay with that 100 years or more as much as possible.”

Olsson-DaBoll, who opened Steeplechase 17 years ago, thinks adding one distinctive antique item to your home can bring a room to life.

“Buy what you love,” she says. “When you look around your house, whatever your eye lands on – whether it’s a piece of artwork or lighting or furniture – you should be surrounded by things that you love.”

Steeplechase Antiques

Like many dealers, Olsson-DaBoll found her passion for antiquing at a young age.

“My sister is 8 years older than I am, and when I was a teenager, I started following her around to antique markets,” she says. Now, she goes to estate sales and auctions across the Midwest, looking for the perfect pieces to add to her inventory.

“I do all of my own picking, and I’m picky about what I buy,” she says.

Stop 2: Peace of the Past
Far from the suburbs, another quaint place to shop is Peace of the Past in Galena. The North and South stores, which are both along Main Street, offer a mix of jewelry, books and other antiques.

Bill Karberg

“My customers really enjoy the presentation of the inventory; it’s visually stimulating to them,” says Bill Karberg, who has owned the store since it opened in 1991 and runs it with his wife, Stefanie. “What sets me apart, to some extent, is the books. I have very collectible, expensive books, but I also like reading copies.”

He estimates the oldest titles in his inventory date back to the 1500s and 1600s.

Karberg blames his mother for his love of antiques and old books.

Peace of the Past

“A distinct memory from my childhood was when my mom was working as an assistant librarian. The library was taking a bunch of books out of circulation and they were going to throw them in the dumpster. Being the person she is, my mom brought home three bags full of those books. I remember being super fascinated looking through them all. Some years later I was able to identify that there were some collectible books in that batch, and I think that was what got me hooked.”

Peace of the Past also carries stoneware, pottery, signs and other items. “It’s very eclectic,” Karberg says. “Most of my inventory comes from private sales.”

Stop 3: Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall
Antique malls offer a one-stop shop for a variety of wares. Gaylene Stomberg, owner of Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall in Woodstock, says she and her husband, Ted, occupy about half the space in the mall. The other half is home to about 60 vendors.

Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall

One challenge for antique shoppers is finding what they’re looking for amidst a sea of options. Stomberg says she keeps the shopping experience at the top of her mind.

“Here, we focus on organization, categorizing as much as we can,” she says. “We focus a ton on display, also. We also do a lot of room settings and it helps people visualize.”

Stomberg is selective about what kinds of pieces go into the store. There are no reproductions or crafts, but there are a lot of vinyl albums.

“We have thousands of them, all categorized, graded; it’s like a record store within a mall,” she says.
Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall is also known for its variety of game room items. The shop sells and restores vintage arcade, pinball and slot machines.

Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall

“Game rooms are our specialty,” Stomberg says. “But our goal is to have something for everyone. We travel good distances, we go to auctions, and because we’ve been in the business for so long, we know thousands of collectors. They’ll often sell off parts of their collection to us.”

Stop 4: Antique Market I
Antique Market I in St. Charles is an antique mall that sells a little bit of everything. Antique dealer Greg Johnson, who was among the market’s first dealers when the facility opened in 1982, says vendors take great pride in what they sell.

Sue Diomedes & Greg Johnson

“We do all the work ourselves. It’s not a managed mall; it’s a co-op,” he says. “We have things for a dollar and things for thousands of dollars. We do really have something for everyone.”

Johnson says a few of the market’s notable offerings include lamps, clocks and jewelry.

“We have a lot of oil lamps. Some of them are original, and some – especially the bigger ones – have been electrified,” he says. “I also used to collect clocks, and I have quite a few of them in the shop. They’re all running and more reasonable than a lot of other places because I check and oil them before they’re sold.”

Prices vary significantly from one store to the next, and Johnson says he’s proud of how reasonable most items in the shop’s inventory are.

Antique Market I

“For example, we have a beautiful 4-foot tabernacle mirror from about 1830. It has the original card from a fancy antique shop in Chicago that was in business probably 75 years ago. At that time, it was $800, and now it’s $350.”

Johnson says now is a great time to shop. “The best thing to do is just come and look,” he says. “There’s so much variety.”

Stop 5: Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques
Pam Reno, who manages Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques in Loves Park, finds the store’s 300 booths showcase an eclectic mix of items.

Colleen Merlo

“We say it’s like walking down memory lane because you’ll see things from your childhood,” she says. “And it’s a nice community of vendors. Everybody works together and has a common goal, and I think that is reflected in our store. We have collectibles, antiques, vintage and even new stuff. We have pretty much everything; it runs the gamut.”

The mall, which is owned by Colleen Merlo, hosts sales and events throughout the year to make the shopping experience more fun. Events, which are highlighted on the shop’s Facebook page, often include sales, complimentary refreshments, crafts, giveaways or other perks. The best way to find upcoming events is by following the store’s Facebook page. Of course, any time is a good time for a visit.

“Some people come in with a goal in mind, like redecorating their house,” Reno says, adding that others come in just to browse. “We’ve even had movie crews come in that were looking for props.”

Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques

Due to the size and scope of the mall, vendors sell everything from mid-century decor to Hot Wheels cars.

Reno worked for estate sale companies before joining Hidden Treasures, where she’s also a vendor. “I like vintage and antique items, and I’m very eclectic in what I sell.”

Repurpose and Preserve
Aside from adding charm and character to your space, antiques can also conserve resources and keep history alive. There’s plenty of it to be found in your typical antique store.

Stomberg believes antique stores play a huge role in preserving history. Among those unique items at Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall is a cooling casket that dates back to the 1800s. Cooling caskets are wicker coffins that were once used to store the bodies of the deceased until they could be moved to a traditional wooden unit.

Antique Market I

“I can’t tell you how many people stop and talk about it,” Stomberg says. “We have a lot of things that people find amazing. They explain to their kids how things worked before modern technology.”

Antiques also help reduce the consumption of new items, particularly when it comes to things that live long, useful lives – like furniture. Olsson-DaBoll believes there’s a significant difference between new furniture and items you’ll find at Steeplechase.

“It’s mainly craftsmanship and detail,” she says. “There is none now; we’ve become a throwaway society. And that’s even true with furniture. You buy something that takes you 12 hours to put together, and then in a few years, it’s fallen apart. I’d rather have a piece of furniture that was made to last.”

Whether it’s a coffee grinder, a statement necklace or a silver serving tray, well-preserved antiques can cut down on the need to acquire newly manufactured things.

The Future of Antiquing
The landscape of antiquing has changed in recent decades. Many stores have gone out of business or consolidated as a result of economic downturns, the rise of online shopping and the wide availability of low-cost reproductions. Antique and vintage store owners survive (and thrive) despite these challenges by watching trends closely, pricing items fairly and stocking the highest-quality items they can find.

Some shops, including Hidden Treasures, adapt to what’s in demand.

“The industry has evolved,” Reno says. “The old antiques have become a smaller market now; vintage is more popular. Younger people are getting into it, and vintage is what they’re looking for.”

Many dealers and store owners believe that, despite changing trends, antique shops will always have a place in the market because nostalgia is a powerful feeling.

Peace of the Past

“This business changes, and you have to change with it. A big part of antiquing is, subconsciously, an attempt to buy back your youth. You have a sentimental attachment to the idea of having that item again,” Karberg says. “Junk will always be junk. It’s the mediocre stuff that dies away.”

One advantage physical stores continue to have over online shops like Etsy and eBay is face-to-face interaction, which is all part of the experience at an antique store.

“Our vendors love talking to people, and every item has a story,” Stomberg says. “I hope the appeal for learning about what was before remains strong enough to keep stores like ours going.”

Antique dealers in the area have a lot to be optimistic about. Johnson, who’s been in the business since the late 1960s, has seen the ebbs and flows of the industry firsthand.

“We were thinking it was starting to die because millennials don’t want china; they don’t want silver; they don’t want stemware; they don’t want anything cluttered,” he says. “But we’ve discovered that now some of the young kids who are in high school just love it in here. They’re our future collectors. I think now is a great time to buy.”

Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques

Get Shopping
If it’s your first time shopping for antiques and you don’t have a specific goal in mind, antiques lovers agree the best way to start is by visiting a few stores. Get a feel for what’s available in your area and see what kinds of items you’re most drawn to.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to the dealers about what they’re selling. Most have a passion for antiques and relish the opportunity to share the history behind the pieces they stock.
Most importantly, stay curious and have fun.