Elizabeth Shull and her husband have owned Oak Tree Antiques on Main Street for five years, but their passion for antiques has spanned most of their lives. Turning their passion (and expansive inventory) into an antique store was an easy transition from their previous work at a family business.
The world of antiques is so interesting and my interview with Elizabeth is only scratching the surface. But for now, enjoy learning about Oak Tree Antiques.
How long have you been in business?
We’ve been here for five years ago. It was in September, on the same date as the Stroll Through History. It also coincided with my husband and my anniversary.
So what did you do before you owned the store?
Well, my family owned William P. Willson and Sons. Both of us (my husband and I) worked there and we had recently sold the business, but while I was working there I was selling antiques a couple of days a week. Prior to opening at this location, we rented a space from Main Street Antiques next door. We were there for five years which gave us a feel for what it’s about.
How long have you been collecting?
We had been collecting before we ever knew each other and we’ve been married almost 40 years. It was just kind of a natural progression, as you collect you realize you we have enough to have your own store! So we rented a space from Patty next door, then quickly realized we’re never going to sell everything that we have from a ten by ten space. So, this building came up for sale and we decided to go for it.
An antique store isn’t something you have to have, you don’t need it to survive but it’s something you want. It triggers some emotion from your past or some memory. So people buy this or that; something that they connected to so they want to build on it and buy more. So it’s up and down, you never know if you’re going to have a good day or what. Buying the building was an investment. I don’t have to make rent, all this business has to do is support itself.
What is considered an antique?
A true antique would be 100 years old. Those are far and few between. I have a couple pieces in here, and I had a wonderful piece that I actually sold. But true antiques, they’re expensive, they’re fragile, most people aren’t into that– you’ve gotta be a diehard collector, usually an older person, that’s not got the little kids around and stuff like that.
Where do you purchase your items for the store?
When we first started, my husband was doing the yard sales, estate sales, and stuff like that. Now that we have our own shop, people come to us and say, “I’m cleaning out.” Older people will come in and say, “I’ve got to get rid of the stuff my kids aren’t interested in, do you want to come look at it?”
We still go to estate sales and auctions, as well as, different antique fairs. There’s one every second Saturday of every month under the freeway in Sacramento. Usually, we’re going there to buy for ourselves, not the store because you’re buying from other dealers. A lot of what happens now is word of mouth, people contacting us. I don’t buy off the street unless I know that person and I have developed a relationship with them. And I don’t buy from people that just wander in with their backpacks full of stuff.
In all of your years of experience, have you every found something extraordinary, a ‘true find’?
It’s interesting. My husband is the guy who does a lot of the research. He’ll sit on the computer for hours looking at things, and every so often– he’s got the eye, he’ll find something. I tend to gravitate towards things that I am comfortable with. He kind of sees the bigger picture and picks up odd things. There was one time we bought a corkscrew opener– wine opener, and I think it was German silver in the shape of lady’s legs. He bought it and I’m like, “Oh, okay. What is that? $5?”. We researched it and found out, “Oh, these are rather uncommon,” and we ended up selling it for a couple hundred dollars. But that doesn’t happen often.
Another time, he was visiting antique stores in Reno and finds a little, wooden fly lure for fly fishing – a little guy. Bought it for $15. Thought it was cool. He went online, researched it, posted it on some fishing board. Somebody from there contacted him and said, “Hey, I need that for my collection.” Its value was in the hundreds of dollars. I was like, “Are you kidding? It’s a piece of wood, and you throw it out there and the fish bites it. What the heck?”
And so what about that made it a collector’s item?
It was rare. So in fishing lures it’s all about how many did they make? When was it made? What color pattern did they use? Because you could buy the same lure in a different color, “Oh, that’s common. Oh, but that one they only made, blah, blah, blah.” I mean, we have books on all sorts of stuff. We’ve got lure books and the internet.
How has the internet changed your business?
The internet has changed because of eBay, everybody buys, it’s global. You’re no longer just looking in your own area. It’s global, you can buy from anywhere. People that want to sell you things will have researched and are more knowledgeable.
There are quite a few antique stores just on Main Street. How does that affect business?
Well, we now have five, I think, antique stores in town. With antique stores, the more there is, the better. It’s not a competition. There’s a booklet that is put out that you pay to advertise in and a lot of people use that when they’re traveling because it covers California, Nevada, Arizona, all sort of places. And when you’re traveling you go, “Oh, look. On our route here’s this town and they’ve got five and here’s another one, they only have two. Let’s go to the one that has five.
One store can’t have everything, so more stores is a good thing. Everybody has different interests so what we put in our store kind of reflects that. We travel and we love going to towns that have a lot of antique stores and all the little boutique type stores. We’re starting to see that and we’ve got Serendipity now and haven a boutique. And while they’re not competition for us or anything like that, but they encourage people to come to town and with people coming to town, they walk by your store and they want to come in.
What do you want people to know about your store?
There is a misconception of, “Oh, that’s just a little store. They don’t have anything.” We have balance, one of the best things in tiny, little stores is that everything’s different. Everybody’s different. I will encourage people that go into other antique stores to tell them what you’re looking for.
I’m always open on First Friday Art Walk, unless there’s some reason, but traditionally I’ve always supported that and been a part of that. Being open to having artists, not necessarily good for a crowded store, but always open to encourage people.
Oak Tree Antiques
535 Main Street
Open Thursday – Saturday