Where have real junk stores gone?
Not “antique” stores, consignment shops, collectibles collections, used furniture or thrift stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army or antiques flea markets, but real junk stores where barely sorted stuff from someone’s grandma’s house is jumbled into dusty, ill-lit spaces, preferably in neighborhoods where rents are low and you have to keep an eye on your car while you shop. Where old electronics in collapsing boxes might be piled atop a weather-beaten old table with hand-turned legs that has your name on it, and a negotiable price tag.
Sometime after the invention of the light bulb, when I moved to Long Beach as a bride, junk stores abounded along Anaheim, Broadway and Fourth. At that time many of the old craftsman bungalows that are so much in demand now were being ripped out and replaced with modern condos and apartments. To the legions of young families abandoning the city to move into the vast new stucco canyons of OrangeCounty those beautiful old homes without enough electrical sockets or bathrooms just seemed outdated. Likely, the young people were furnishing their new homes with new furniture and not Grandma’s cast-offs.
When we bought our first house, a post-war tract house with a huge yard on a street lined with jacaranda trees, we had a car full of wedding gifts and not much else. My husband had just finished his military service and I was freshly out of college. So, while I had a pretty good collection of mini skirts, I did not have a table to set with our lovely new bone china. No chairs either, except one the previous owners had left in the garage.
We shopped furniture and department stores, but I found little we could afford that was appealing in the “full room suites:” Matching sofa and love seat, matching cocktail and end tables, a matching pair of weird-looking ceramic lamps and maybe a decorative ash tray thrown in, all to be had on an easy revolving credit plan. But they were so ordinary, and cheap. Instead, we happily accepted a hand-me-down sofa from parents, for which I made a slipcover. We splurged to buy a beautiful tufted-leather high-back chair at a floor model sale, and from the Melrose Avenue designer showroom of the now sadly defunct Akron stores a big coffee table and an ornately carved door, both made in Mexico. The door was too big to be used as a door in that house, so we had legs made and the door, topped with glass, became our one-of-a-kind dining room table. For the rest of the house, junk store discoveries and hand-me-downs. Every acquisition had its own story, its own adventure.
After several years of suburban tract house life, we moved into town, bought a big craftsman house, circa 1914, in the Carroll Park Historic District. By then we had collected a mix of new and old furnishings that, while not in any way matchy, lived happily, and dare I say elegantly, together.
It seemed that overnight those great old junk stores disappeared, lost to urban renewal, the fad by the late 1970s for antiques that were stuff that was formerly just old. Even the Salvation Army offered “boutique” sections of the more interesting old donated stuff.
Is it the influence of programs like Antique Road Show that make people hope that Grandma’s old dresser is authentic Chippendale and not Barker Brothers circa 1958 that led to the disappearance of good junk stores? I don’t know. I do, however, miss the treasure hunt in junk stores. Real junk stores.
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