Lori Rollins wasn’t your typical teenager. While her friends were out dancing at rock concerts, she was scouring flea markets.
Her fascination with old stuff began when her grandfather passed away. When the family began sorting through his belongings, Rollins was drawn to the charm and beauty of items from a bygone era.
As she grew into early adulthood, her passion for all things old didn’t go away. As her knowledge base of antiques grew, so did her curiosity.
While a young single mother of two, Rollins began working part time at a Grass Valley antique store owned by a friend. It didn’t take long before she realized she wanted her own business.
In 1984, Rollins opened the doors of the Grass Valley Antique Emporium on Main Street, in Grass Valley. Two years later, she moved to the current 2,800-square-foot location on Mill Street, where she has remained for the past 28 years. Based on the cooperative model, Rollins shares her retail space with 10 antiques dealers, each of whom has their own nook featuring their best finds. Depending on who is working on any given day, dealers evaluate, buy and sell items to a steady stream of customers.
“I carefully screen the dealers who sell here,” said Rollins. “I like them to be highly involved, very hands-on and passionate about the antique business. The result has been a team of longtime, quality dealers with expertise, all of whom sell a wide range of quality items. The variety is astonishing.”
Standing amid the literally hundreds of thousands of unique gems filling the store, dealer Barbara Perdue says she has been working the register and selling her antiques at the Antique Emporium for the past 22 years.
“There’s not a lot of turn over here when it comes to dealers,” she said. “Once they get in here, they don’t want to get out.”
Only a visit to the shop can fully confirm the sheer volume and range of inventory, for example, a 1929 cigarette dispenser, a doll buggy, doilies, drill bits, auto harps, Victorian lamps, horse shoes, a wooden sled, brooches, silver ware, vintage postcards, tea sets, thimbles, lanterns, flasks, jewelry, books, furniture eye glasses, an 1880s coffee grinder and much more.
Feeling fortunate to be located in a robust shopping area that has vastly improved over the past three decades, Rollins said her fellow merchants feel like extended family.
She attributes much of the foot traffic to the quality businesses she shares the block with — but a quality selection is what keeps them coming back.
“Our stuff is truly vintage or antique,” said Rollins. “We never carry reproductions. We have high standards. We also like to keep our inventory fresh — in some stores you can go back months later and see the same things on the shelf. Things change a lot here, although I have bought back a few things I sold customers years before. I guess in a way we’re essentially just the caretakers of this stuff.”
Dealer Doug Moon’s interest in antiques started in college. He and his roommates were given a coffee table by a relative, which they proceeded to melt wax on.
When Moon turned it over in an attempt to pound the wax off, he realized it was an Italian table with intricately inlaid wood of varying colors.
He refinished it and fell in love with it. Thus began a lifelong habit of scouring flea markets, garage sales and auctions, in search of furniture and other antiques.
He and his wife, Shirley, work at the Antique Emporium several days a week.
“The best part of this business is the hunt,” he said.
“Those treasures are few and far between. I’m always on the lookout for the old, the charming, the attractive, the interesting.”
Rollins agrees, but stresses that there is another valuable dimension to selling antiques for more than 30 years.
“I love the people who come in — they are always so excited about what they’ve found,” she said. “Everyone has stories. It just never gets boring.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at email@example.com or call 530-477-4203.