One-time Manteca Police dispatcher Betty Castle has been a collector from the time she was a child. Today she runs the Antique Avenue mall in the former Big Boy Market building at Yosemite and Powers avenues.
Castle has more than 55 private vendors who have rented space in her some 8,000-square-foot building that draws about 20,000 potential customers a year – mostly from outside of Manteca – searching for that one of a kind, unique item.
The Manteca woman is a professional at describing the history of the countless items in her store and is also seen as her own chamber of commerce. She knows much of Manteca history and can draw from her years living in Manteca for the out-of-towner that decides to listen to her thoughts on the heart and soul of the community and its government.
Antique Avenue is the largest antique mall in San Joaquin County. She opened the business some 16 years ago. But she began gathering items long before that when her parents would take her along on car trips.
There were the free match books, pencils, picture post cards and road maps with their advertisements. She would also save caps from soda bottles, but by summer’s end her mother would throw it all out to her chagrin.
“When I was a senior in high school, I escaped home with 40 post cards,” she chuckled. “I would have amassed a small fortune if I had been allowed to keep it all.”
Castle later collected some 1,000 pieces of cobalt blue glass, 700 thimbles and many containers of Paris perfumes. She noted that antique shops are few and far between now in California – so many have closed, according to the Manteca entrepreneur.
She said the beginning of the antique malls on the West Coast came in 1976 with some 110 later closing in Northern California over a 15-year span. Some of the closures were due to the economy, but the downturn was mostly caused by a lack of demand.
She further explained that in the ‘30s and ‘40s people didn’t have the money to spend because of the Depression era market and the economy of World War II. She said the market today is geared to interesting the 25 to 50-year-olds needing to be educated to the value of antiques.
She said the most sought-after items today are old advertising signs and garden art.
Pricing of the items in her store can go from as low as a few cents to thousands of dollars. A Frostie Root Beer sign on the front wall is priced at $1,500 and a Texaco sign is tagged for $1,700. A Texaco service station pump recently sold for $2,000.
The older furniture items bring as much as $500, starting out at $250. Both are high and low averages.
“It’s the vintage collectibles that are in higher demand right now than the 100-year-old antiques,” Castle said. “Most of the buying public is in an age range of 25 to 50 and they don’t relate to antiques.”
The Steam Punk Lamps and ship lights are a favorite to decorate bars and restaurants and are also used by the teens for their “man caves” at home, she added. The lights are made from truck exhausts and from the yokes used to harness farm animals.
She said the metal, leather and woodworking craftsman have just used old scraps in many cases and have come out with some fabulous things.
One special item that Castle would rather keep for herself is an old Victorian hat rack that came from the hotel at Mokelumne Hotel. It is priced at $325. And, located right next to it is a tiny 1894 Wilcox and Gibbs foot pump sewing machine. It was priced at $1,200 and has been reduced to $595.
Antique Avenue is located at 1920 East Yosemite Avenue. The telephone number is 239-7879. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 to 5; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 12 noon until 5 p.m. The store is closed on Mondays.
— GLENN KAHL