MEET YOUR MERCHANT: Turning a love for antiques into a cooperative featuring six dealers in Grass Valley
Mill Street Vintage & Antiques
143 Mill St., Grass Valley
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Denise Bigham has always love the thrill of the hunt when it comes to antiques and vintage collectibles. What started out as a hobby became a business six years ago when she and her teenage son decided to open an eBay store.
“I told my son I would front the money to open the business if he would oversee the listing and shipping,” said Bigham. “I got into it in earnest right away — I was having a ton of fun.”
But after a few months Bigham’s son was over it, telling her, “It’s all yours, Mom.”
Bigham decided to open an Etsy store instead and continued to scour estate sales, garage sales and thrift stores on weekends and during her lunch hour while working full time as an executive administrator at a high tech company in Sunnyvale.
“I was pleased when the Etsy store did very well, it became very successful,” she said. “It evolved into a huge passion and I began collecting so much stuff that I built a studio in the backyard. Once you’ve got this bug, it’s all-consuming.”
Bigham was up early every morning before work cleaning and restoring her newfound treasures, preparing them for sale. She was hooked.
Four years ago, Bigham moved to Nevada County permanently and brought her treasures with her. Finally, she was able to focus solely on her passion and opened Mill Street Vintage & Antiques in Grass Valley in October 2018. Operating as a cooperative and sharing space with other dealers, each member works one day a week and has his or her own collection of antique or vintage items. While they don’t work on consignment, they do occasionally buy items outright from customers.
Bigham’s specialty is antique crystal and cut glass, such as American Brilliant glass made between 1876 and 1917, Gorham and Waterford crystal and the intricate etched patterns of Tiffin Glass. Other favorites are her silver tea sets, glass salt cellars with tiny silver spoons and 24-karat overlay Italian glassware.
Dealers Jan and John Anwyl have an impressive selection of vintage books, ranging from the mid 1800s to the 1940s, in addition to jewelry and furniture. Well-known Nevada County dealer Jean Dalmau also sells items at Mill Street Vintage & Antiques, such as higher end Asian pieces and a collection of other international treasures.
Collector Claudia Peterson brings a variety of Victorian home pieces to the store from her native state of Missouri, and master knife maker Jay Gordin has display cases featuring knives made with hand-forged high carbon steel blades with handles made from the likes of elk, deer and moose horn, fossil ivory, exotic woods and silver. Sheaths are made from oak-tanned cowhide.
The newest addition to the Mill Street Vintage & Antiques group is dealer Troy Walker. While his day job is interior designer, he is known for working as a buyer for San Francisco antique stores.
“Things change daily here, which is why we have so many longtime repeat customers,” said Bigham. “We’ve never had to advertise. As dealers we’re a very close-knit group. There has to be trust — we are committed to taking care of each other’s things.”
“We were thrilled to be a part of this Grass Valley storefront,” echoed dealer John Anwyl, who lives in Loomis. “Our family homesteaded in Nevada County in 1954 — it feels like coming home. We love the people — it feels like family.”
While each dealer may have a specialty, the two-story retail space’s inventory is vast and eclectic. A quick sampling includes vintage watches, candlesticks, brooches, china, christening gowns, silver platters, dolls, mint-condition upholstered furniture, paintings, fans, colored glassware and countless other items. The only sure thing regarding each collection is that it is sure to change.
“Everything I buy I love — each piece is something I would want,” said Bigham. “I love seeing someone walk out with something they’ve been searching for. I’m a kind of matchmaker. It gives me great pleasure to bring something I love back to its glory and find it a good home.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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