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Shop owners turning downtown into antiques district

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By Nicolette Toussaint

Sopris Sun Correspondent

With three antique stores now clustered in a one-block section of Main Street, shoppers can amble between the Old West and ancient Orient, ogling treasures at Strange Imports and Out West Antiques, then stop for coffee at Bonfire and later on hop across the street to peruse period French and English furniture and other items at European Antiques.

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And then there’s the venerable Miser’s Mercantile (“The best second hand store in the West”) at the east end of Main Street, and Back Door Consignment just north of Main Street behind The Pour House. Both stores see a steady flow of antiques, collectibles and vintage items come and go through their busy doors.

This clustering of antique, second hand and consignment stores follows an established and successful tradition. Many large cities draw visitors with districts chockablock with multiple shops: San Francisco’s Jackson Square and St. Louis’ Cherokee Row are prime examples.

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Dave Dixon, who moved Strange Imports to 423 Main in November 2012, encouraged Leonard and Mindy Langston, two of the six dealers affiliated with Out West Antiques, to move in just three doors away. He explained to The Sopris Sun, “Carbondale’s retailers cannot rely on just locals to support their businesses. There’s just not enough population to make that work. Attracting more well curated, diverse, individually owned stores will attract more shoppers, buyers and money to the town. I truly see Carbondale poised to become a retail mecca for the valley. I would like to see more design, art, antique and furnishing-related businesses in the cluster.”

Mindy Langston, a co-owner at Out West Antiques, added: “There’s something special about a collaboration of people who are passionate about antiques. Because all the dealers are so knowledgeable, the antiques are of very good quality. This gives buyers a reason to explore all the shops and bring friends to Carbondale.”

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Dixon, at Strange Imports, notes that he has “a big list of Aspen clients who will come down for lunch and stroll Carbondale’s shops and galleries.” He thinks that the individuality of Carbondale’s stores could give the town an edge over Aspen, where a 20-block downtown contains 30 high-end, chain stores like Prada and Gucci — stores that offer the same merchandise in Aspen as in Beverly Hills or Miami.

“Main Street is a great location,” said Langston. “It’s symbiotic, and we love being in an antique building. On Highway 133, we had a destination store. Here we have a lot of foot traffic. It’s great because we can make it worthwhile for people to make a trip to Carbondale.”

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Out West Antiques

Out West Antiques relocated from Highway 133 to 449 Main Street on First Friday this March and is itself a collaboration; along with Maggie Kromer and the Langstons, the partners include antiquarian/designer Deborah Taylor, and Tom and Deb Morton. Out West Antiques showcases an eclectic mix of antique American and French country furniture, vintage Bakelite jewelry, Western and cowboy memorabilia and other distinctive items.

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The Out West Antique owners cheerfully share cultural knowledge and stories. As a recent visitor admires a pair of hand-beaded doeskin moccasins, Kromer agrees that the blue flowered pattern is characteristic of northeastern, rather than western, Indian tribes. She purchased the moccasins in Taos and tells a sad story: The moccasins’ original owner came out west for tribal ceremonies but had to pawn the prized possession to raise money to get back home.

Each of the Out West Antiques partners contributes specific expertise. The Mortons are known for classic antique china, crystal and furniture, while the Langstons are known for their western and cowboy memorabilia, including an Aspen saddle dating back to 1896. Deb Taylor has a large selection of lodge and Adirondack accessories; she also designs handbags from vintage material and is available for interior design consultations. Kromer is an expert in Bakelite. An early plastic invented in 1907 for telephones and radios, Bakelite became fashionable for jewelry during World War II, when metals were needed for war production. Kromer, who stocks colorful 1930s and 1940s-era plastic jewelry along with items such as poker chips and napkin rings, has a large following of Bakelite collectors, including some of Aspen’s celebrity visitors.

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Kromer has a sense of humor that shows in the store. Noting that their location across the street from the Doctor’s Garden marijuana dispensary has led to considerable foot traffic, she has put together a “need for weed” corner — a colorful collection of antique tobacco tins from all over the United States.

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Strange Imports

Three doors from Out West Antiques at Strange Imports, Dixon said, “I absolutely love the business community here. It’s very supportive. People here have an appreciation for spiritual things, craftsmanship and things of beauty. And I love sharing these things.”

Dixon’s love for Asian culture is immediately apparent as a customer enters Strange Imports and is offered some green tea. His 2,500 square-foot showroom is filled with furniture and art that he selects during trips to China, Thailand, Nepal and Mongolia.

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“Everything you see here has a special meaning,” Dixon explained. “The images and symbols are wishing someone good health, a long life or children.” The front door panels of a Tibetan 11-panel cabinet are covered with dragons, phoenixes and geometric patterns that appear to be embossed in bronze. Dixon explained that the patterns are raised; to create them, the artist prepared a gesso made from burnt rice ash, mixed it into a paste, and then applied it in much the same way icing is squeezed onto a cake using a pastry bag.

Among the gallery’s treasures are Tibetan pegham chests, a delicate, red-lacquered Chinese chair and a stunning, 12-foot long contemporary table fashioned from a single, rare, golden-figured slab of acacia weighing nearly 800 pounds. Dixon shows off a miniature Chinese house called a fukan; used as a shine, it housed tablets bearing the names of departed ancestors. An intricately painted jewelry box from Persia bears tiny horsemen that dance out from golden brushstrokes. Balinese masks, African sculptures and wind chimes from India adorn the walls and ceiling.

Dixon, who has operated stores in Eagle/Vail and Aspen, said “Downtown Carbondale is a truly charming area for a stroll, the town has done a excellent job in preserving its character. We have excellent dining and easy parking. Now we need more great retail to cement it together. My thanks go out to all the other established Main street retailers who have gone out of their way to make me feel at home here. I am so happy that Mindy (Langston) and Maggie (Kromer) have moved next door to help take the area to the next level!”

European Antiques

Out West Antiques and Strange Imports join European Antiques, located at 358 Main, which is owned by Sidney and Bernard Poncelet. Bernard, who is Belgian, frequently travels to Belgium and France on buying trips. (The Poncelets were on a trip at the time this article was written and were unavailable for comment.) Their offerings include furniture from Western Europe. Some pieces are massive; one whitewashed mahogany sideboard measures nearly 8 feet long and 7 feet high. The store also stocks a variety of rod-iron hardware, including hooks, drawer pulls, coat racks, door knockers, door stops, handles and key racks, and also caters to thematic collectors: those looking for birds, crosses, pigs or moons, for example.