Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Petula Clark Said It Best
I live in the suburbs. I like our big yard with the deck that faces the woods, where just Sunday afternoon I watched some deer snacking on greens sticking through the snow. Our modest ranch house was built in the 1960's with plenty of big trees and tucked away areas to garden in, a spacious two car garage for all of Joe's wood working tools and sundries, and of course actual cars. But I have to admit, I occasionally wish we lived downtown or at least closer into the heart of Kansas City. Sometimes I long for tall old brick buildings, and long concrete sidewalks packed with a bustling, frenetic crowd, the energy and pace and creativity, the lack of parking. I crave it.
On Friday my brain felt like it was surrounded by Styrofoam packing peanuts. Like I had boxed it away for a long trip and didn't plan to break it out anytime soon. This muzzy, dull mid winter feeling that I blame on that house and office bound January blizzard. Stir crazy, shuffling between the office and the house and random boring errands like the gas station, library and grocery store, nothing out of the ordinary, just basic, boring, standard, seeing the same places, same sights, same people. When the weather is cold and blizzardy and unpleasant we tend to hole up with movies and pots of stew and blankets and then we get tired of each other's faces. It happens. I love Joe madly, but after a few days around just each other, it was vital that we venture out and about into the world again.
So based on Petula's recommendation, we headed downtown.
After a great dinner out with friends and a little used bookstore browsing on Friday night (I only bought one book, how's that for restraint? It was Henry and June by Anais Nin, which should warm up some cold February nights,) Saturday morning happened to coincide with the monthly antique shows in the gritty, industrial West Bottoms of downtown Kansas City. We made some coffee, ate a quick breakfast and headed out for our treasure hunt. The West Bottoms is home to artist's studios, lofts, galleries, and plenty of old empty buildings that fill up with various commercial ventures, (and possibly some illegal commercial ventures but we didn't shop those,) depending on the season and month. From September to November it's home to enormous and ghastly haunted houses, all the creepiest venues in Kansas City: The Edge of Hell, The Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe, The Beast, The Catacombs, all the scariest Halloween horror spots that in my thirty plus years of living in Kansas City, I've never set foot inside, not even one of them. I have no plans to do so. I am a chicken. The idea of screaming until I'm hoarse and/or peeing my pants at 35 is unappealing. It's bad enough when I tried to watch The Strangers, sitting at home on my own couch, and had to fast forward through the last half I was so tense. I like being scared, but not in person.
So we save our trips to the West Bottoms for art, people watching and shopping. A few years ago my dad had an art studio in one of the old industrial warehouses down there. It was an adventure to go visit him. Sitting in his brick walled studio space, with enormous windows and high, high ceilings, art supplies and canvases and half finished work scattered about. Watching my accountant dad throw paint on canvas and talk about his vision for the work.I loved it. The building he was in rented to lots of artists and they occasionally had shows where you could wander from studio to studio and see what everyone was working on. I loved the ability to wander through someone's creative space and see their work in such an informal and personal way. Much different than a museum or formal gallery opening. And a tad voyeuristic. But I digress, back to Saturday's treasure hunt.
After doing a quick search via Yelp on Friday after work, I found about four or five antique/flea market/ vintage shops that we wanted to visit, though realistically we would probably only end up at two or three. But who doesn't like options? So here are the one's we looked at, just in case you are in KC and looking for that something old that's new to you. Or an old trunk or suitcase, because I believe 100% of the booths we walked through had at least one or two for sale, yes 100%.
Bottoms Up Antique Market
River Market Antiques
Urban Mining Homewares
Of this list we only made it to two out of five. After three hours of browsing, shopping, laughing, chatting with vendors and artists, and digging through dusty goodies from your grandmother's attic, we were done and hungry. But that just leaves another three to explore next month.
We hit Good JuJu first, possibly because of the name. I'm reading a book about zombies right now (because I'm that sophisticated,) and the voodoo reference made me want to go here first. Good JuJu was exactly that. All kinds of good stuff shoved in several plain old squares of footage. And it was packed when we arrived. Tucked in on the first floor of an old warehouse down at 12th and Liberty, Good JuJu is where people who don't really like antiques should love to shop. Everything is merchandized beautifully. Like things are paired together and combined in charming vignettes to show you exactly how they would look in your living room. While this is a perfectly delightful way to shop, it goes against all of my antiquing instincts. I want to dig through ugly old porcelain dishes and McDonald's happy meal toys from 1982 to find that perfect brooch or kooky vase, but this doesn't need to happen at Good JuJu. All the work has already been done for you. And that's not a bad thing. Old furniture has already been cleaned and re-varnished or painted to reflect modern tastes. Vintage clothes are paired with modern shoes. And when someone has already gone to the trouble to tart up your old stuff they usually gouge you on the price. But Good JuJu prices were very reasonable. Now, let's be honest. These aren't antiques in the traditional sense. These are vintage 1950's to 1970's modern and mid-century cool things, but these aren't Antiques Roadshow quality. But they will liven up any room or body. Believe me, if that sequined red dress at the top had been in my size I would be wearing it to work everyday.
Joe bought a white enamel coated metal cabinet (see below) about nightstand height, that was in excellent condition. It looks like it came out of a doctor's office in the 1960's. The lady he bought it from said that she had found it in someone's basement and it was covered in rust and dirt. She said that a very fine steel wool did wonders and wouldn't scratch the surface. It goes well with another 1960's metal two door cabinet that used to hold paint cans and tools in Joe's grandparent's basement. His grandparents were kind of horrified that that piece is what we wanted when they moved out of their house into a smaller place. But it's great. Now what are we going to do with these two pieces? No idea. Maybe in a kid's room someday?
Good JuJu on a Saturday morning at 9:30 was a little too crowded for my taste though. It cut into the quality, lingering browsing pace that I like to affect. But I found this charming little 1950's kids' spelling tool (see below) that was in such great condition I had to buy it. Bright orange, covered in animals and math equations, it's sitting in the window in my office at home. Is it totally pointless and silly? Absolutely, but does it charm my socks off every time I glance at it? Absolutely.
After we bought our treasures at Good JuJu, we hauled them to the car and headed down to our next location, just at the end of the long block on 12th, to Bottoms Up Antiques. Right away we could tell this was a totally different antique market from Good JuJu, gone were the reasonably priced vintage cuties and in their place were the beautiful, high quality European and American antiques that designers, rich society dames and cooler people than ourselves decorate their homes with. I had sticker shock. I also had to swallow some regret that I couldn't afford the glass medical supply cabinet from 1880's France ($2,499) or the authentic 1920's public school pull-down map of ancient Rome ($1,400.) But damn was it fun to browse. The most beautiful booth on the first floor of Bottoms Up was Prize. Filled with earth tone treasures from all over Europe, beautiful religious relics, amazing furniture and fabrics, old coral and shells, each corner, each nook, each roundabout was filled with complex, layered vignettes. I wanted to buy it all. But alas, out of our price range. Part of me finds it silly that someone could spend $200 on a pillow and the other part of me respects the artistry and craft of these beautiful old pieces. Some pieces at Prize were from the 1700 and 1800's. Ikea furniture just doesn't last like that.
The second floor of Bottoms Up returned to our price range. A nice mix of booths and vendors with all sorts of goodies. Joe bought an old rotary phone in bright red. He has been lusting after one for years and always laments that the Pottery Barn old fashioned style phone is not rotary dial and that it's an abomination. He takes his land lines very seriously. He claims he's going to rewire it so we can actually use it, but I'm guessing it will become a bookshelf sitter. The seller even came down on his price and threw in the dust for free.
That's the other thing I like about antique shopping and flea markets, talking and chatting with vendors. These are some of the friendliest, and yet oddest people out there. I had a nice conversation with two women who make modern Steam punk jewelry out of old vintage pieces. And it really helped rekindle my interest in making jewelry, but that's another post. I bought a mish-mash of old costume jewelry, some I'll just wear without changing and recreating and some that I can't wait to cut up and turn into entirely different jewelry pieces.
I also bought this big ol' red beaded bracelet, because for $9 bucks I couldn't walk away. It actually called out to me. I sleep in it now. (Not really, because the wire is kind of pokey, but you get that I really like it through the hyperbole, which is less hyperbolic when I go on explaining it, sorry, jewelry makes me loopy.)
All in all it was a delightful, entertaining, mildly adventurous day spent wandering around downtown, visiting local shops, helping the economy one vintage treasure at a time, and livening up an otherwise gray February Saturday. And of course we had to wrap up with a lunch at the Westport Flea Market. Home of arguably the best burger and curly fries in town. My favorite thing about the Flea Market, other than their Mini Market burger which is the perfect size, is that their ordering and waitress system is kind of clunky. I like this, but when you first visit the Flea Market you will not know how it works. And like the table of elderly women who sat down next to us, ordered their margaritas and Bloody Mary's from the waitress and then sat there waiting for another twenty minutes before they tapped me on the shoulder and asked if the waitress was going to come back for their order. I laughed, with a polite but vaguely patronizing smile and explained that waitresses handled the drinks, but you had to order food at the bar. I felt smug and then took a big juicy bite of burger and chewed that nasty smug away. The ladies waved at us and thanked us when we left. Downtown and Westport cured my winter blahs last weekend. Petula was right when she said "We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares so go downtown, everything's waiting for you."
Are you an antiquer? Or would you rather gouge out your own eyes than visit a flea market?