John and Barb Eddy are the owners of Vintage Pickins, a five-year-old antique store just outside Edgerton.
The business started with John Eddy and his dad while John was in high school. His dad kept buying stuff from auctions but would not sell any of it. Because John worked in an auction house for a while, he noticed there was more value to some of the junk his dad kept.
After going to a flea market, he learned he could make money from it. In 1976, he met his future wife, Barb, in southern Beloit while running his and his dad’s antique store. She did not know anything about the business but decided to learn.
Together, they have been in this business for about 40 to 45 years.
Throughout their career, while mainly staying true to their small business, the couple’s profession has gone through many phases.
“One phase or another, you know, we’ve done a lot of refinishing, we’ve done just buying and selling, we just sold on the internet for a few years, we had a sports card shop for a while. Uh, we’ve sold pretty much a little bit of everything over the years,” says John Eddy.
Five years ago, John and Barb searched for buildings they could put their own thrift shop in. They found an old, red barn once used for tobacco, a barn now available for lease on Craigslist.
The barn is right off the interstate, on the edge of Edgerton.
“We wanted to be out where we could spread out and put stuff outside and do some outside events and different stuff like that, so that’s pretty much why we ended up here instead of downtown somewhere-to say nothing against downtowns but we wanted to be able to spread outside and go from there, yep. We got our place,” says John Eddy.
“And we also like the proximity to I-90 as well,” adds Barb Eddy.
John and Barb Eddy split their store responsibilities. John handles inventory, while Barb handles book work and marketing.
Although the store is only open Friday through Sunday, running the shop is a full time job. John and Barb say it is their living and not something they do as a hobby.
For the rest of the week, they take care of other business responsibilities. They look for, “neat stuff, cool junk!” That is their motto. They take care of their grand children as well as cleaning and managing inventory. John also likes to reclaim materials to build new items for sale. They like doing research on the items.
“A lot of the business anymore is repurposing. Taking an old door and making a table out of it or an old window, making a wall plaque or, you know, that kind of stuff. So it’s keeping up with the trends,” says John Eddy.
It is, what they call, “the thrill of the hunt,” seeing what they can find to add to their changing inventory.
Turning their store into a store of vintage and antique treasures, they have, what they call an eclectic mix of items.
“We’ve been told for many years that we have the knack of finding stuff that people like, you know-have a good eye for what people like and I guess that’s just something that comes in time and you either got it or you don’t, you know?” says John Eddy.
The Eddys say they keep an eye on what is selling and use Pinterest to keep up with popular inventory.
They have an intimate knowledge of the items they sell…
Barb Eddy points to a piece that they’ve owned for around thirty years.
“This was back in the day when we were refinishing furniture all the time and John bought this at an estate sale. It was all ugly brown on the outside just like it is on the inside. As he’s stripping it, he’s taking layers and layers of paint off and he found the original paint on this circa eighteen-sixties pine cabinet. So this is something that we had toyed with keeping for many years and just finally decided we didn’t have the space for it, so here it is. But this is a really cool piece. It’s all handmade and it even has the maker’s mark etched inside. And see all of this? This is all hand-chamfered, they call it. You see the pegs? There’s no nails. It’s all wooden pegs construction.”
Etched on the inside of the left door are the initials, “JH.”
“And I’ve tried to do research over the years and I’ve not been able to find anything on it. But hopefully one of these days somebody’s gonna come in and just have to have it for their home,” Barb Eddy says.
“Let’s see, I’ve got some. These are actually-I’ve got several-I’ve got one and there was one over on the counter, that blue, glass lamp. And I’ve got two of them upstairs. These are called Hollywood Regency lamps. They were made back in the nineteen-fifties. There were two brothers that, um, came back from World War Two, moved to Los Angeles, and evidently they must have been in Italy, because they fell in love with this Murano glass and decided to start making lamps in this Hollywood Regency style which was very popular back in the nineteen-fifties. So yeah, we’ve got like four of these very unusual lamps in here that I’ll probably have to sell online. They come with the…I mean, you can, you know, turn them off manually,” Barb Eddy explains.
“A nineteen-thirties truck grille and they’ll make-people will make tables out of them, bars out of them, light fixtures, hang them-you know, all kinds of different stuff, so part of that repurposing stuff that we get into. This one actually is going to the flea market this weekend,” John Eddy explains.
“There’s something else I guess I can show you. This is something that I actually make out of old saws. I use a plasma cutter and I make, what they call, these saw trees. And every single one of them is different, because I just free-hand them. And, um, they’ve been very popular with the customers-and it’s been kind of fun to do too,” says Barb Eddy.
“Oh, piece of glass up there. That’s, uh, Blenko art glass. Um, that’s made out east somewhere-I don’t know if they’re still in business to this day but they were up until, I think, at least the nineteen-nineties. And they might still be in business today. Um, that’s all blown glass up there. Pretty cool piece-looks like that genie bottle doesn’t it?” says Barb Eddy.
The shop closed down last spring at the peak of COVID, re-opening in a limited capacity last summer. The shop closed down again at the start of this year, due to COVID spikes and winter weather, but re-opened in March.
With everything shut down, they could not go out and collect anything new so they created things for customers with stuff they had at home.
Although, they do not know how long Vintage Pickins will last as much of it depends on health and whatever they do next. One thing is for sure: the antique business is not going anywhere.
“We just enjoy doing what we’re doing for the most part. Some days get awful long and you wish they’d get over quicker but, other than that it’s just uh, it’s uh, it’s not an easy money business anymore, you know? But you gotta enjoy what you’re doing and we enjoy it, yep. And visiting and it’s kind of a social life. Period. You know?” says John Eddy.
Photos, audio, and story by Danielle Kronau.