On Antique Alley, a more present past is popular

  • Former state representative Charles Yeaton among the antique tools he sells out of his barn at the Betty House antique shop in Epsom. Lola Duffort / Monitor staff

  • Vintage hats and clothes on display at R.S. Butler’s Trading Company in Northwood. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • A collection of chisels, saws, and assorted tools at the Betty House antique shop in Epsom. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • Old wood chairs hang on top of old political signs in the Betty House antique barn in Epsom. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • Old frames hang in the Fern Eldridge and Friends antique shop in Northwood. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • Old political pins under glass at the Betty House antique shop in Epsom. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • Vintage dairy bottles filled with styrofoam balls at the Parker-French Antique Center in Northwood. Lola Duffort / Monitor staff

  • Chandeliers hang in a barn at the R.S. Butler’s Trading Company antique shop in Northwood. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

  • Linda Wright and Chuck Evans, who own the Eagle Antique Shop in Northwood, stand at their cash register – an old teller’s booth that was once part of a post office. Lola Duffort / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, April 15, 2017

Antique sellers may traffic in the past, but it’s the vagaries of the present that sometimes define their trade.

“Nowadays, the customers are much, much younger and they’re buying 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s items that they feel – because of age – that those are antiques,” said Fern Eldridge, the owner of Fern Eldridge & Friends Antiques in Northwood.

Eldridge’s shop is a mainstay along Antique Alley, the oldest antique shopping district in New England. Seventeen member shops run along Route 4, west from Lee all the way east into Concord.

Still, Eldridge sticks to the traditional stuff. Her shop, which hosts a number of different dealers, specializes in Americana, paintings, Shaker boxes, textiles and woodenware, all mostly pre-1900.

She got the treasure-hunting bug from her grandfather, a dealer in Massachusetts, who used to take her out on antique-finding expeditions. A child in tow, he had an easier time getting people to open their doors to a stranger hoping to take a look at their living room furniture.

“He never went to the door unless he had me with him,” she said. “He gave me my very first lessons in antiques. I learned everything from him years ago. But times have changed.”

And that’s a theme that runs through Antique Alley, whose shops sell basically everything from 200-year-old wood planers to 1980s music memorabilia.

The truly rarefied, big-ticket items also still sell well, said Jane Benting, a dealer at Eldridge’s – but they are, by definition, a little hard to come by. And collectibles remain a reliable source of business. One of her husband’s most popular items are toy soldiers – “a second childhood type thing,” she said.

“I think there’s still a really big interest in old stuff – it’s just different old stuff than it used to be,” said Colleen Pingree, who co-owns R.S. Butler’s Trading Company in Northwood with her husband Don. “It’s no longer traditional. It’s no longer Victorian furniture. We’re selling a lot of 50s and 60s. A lot of art deco. A lot of industrial.”

Pingree runs the Route 4 Antique Alley Association, and R.S. Butler’s two sprawling barns of antiques in many ways encapsulate the range the Alley’s shops have to offer. Take the scene you stumble upon when you enter one barn: above hangs a life-sized shark, below sits an ornate Victorian-style cast-iron stove.

In Epsom, there’s Betty House Antiques, a ramshackle complex of four buildings about half a mile from Route 4, on North Road, where Charles Yeaton has been selling antiques for about fifty years.

The shop is named for Betty Yeaton, an ancestor of Charles Yeaton’s, and the antiques are split between a former carriage house, barn, house and cider press that Betty and her husband, William, owned. Charles Yeaton lives across the street, in a building that, back in the 1800s, was the local tavern Betty and William ran.

A former educator, Charles Yeaton spent two decades as a Democratic state representative in the New Hampshire House, and his political bent is reflected in both his wares and decorating tastes. There are old political pins under glass for sale in one building, and in the barn where he stores furniture and tools, political signs from races and causes local and national line the wooden, dusty walls.

Charles Yeaton’s shop is best known for his collection of tools. A corner of the barn is dedicated to wood planers that date back to the mid-1800s, chisels, saws, and other useful implements from yesteryear.

“I really like the objects that people used to work with,” he said.

Mostly hobbyists, collectors (like himself), and professional craftspeople buy his tools. But he also thinks the business of antiques has changed.

“(People) prefer things that – that are not as old, actually. Things I guess they remember from when they were young,” he said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)