Gurnee Antique Center – a dream fulfilled

The little town of Gurnee, Ill.,40 miles north of Chicago, has three major attractions: discount shopping is found at Gurnee Mills; you have choices of all kinds of amusement rides at Six Flags Great America; and the most recent addition of the attraction list is the Gurnee Antique Center. Located between Gurnee Mills and Six Flags and just off Interstate 94, you can’t miss it.

The market is the fulfillment of the dream of Luan and Jerry Watkins. Both were in the business world but loved and collected antiques until their house, basement and garage were filled. They decided to pursue their dream – an antiques business.

“We wanted wide aisles, good traffic flow, quality items and dealers, clean rest rooms, a place for people to relax and read and, above all, a good location,” Luan said.

To accomplish those goals, they built the Gurnee Antique Center and selected 200 dealers who carry true antiques to join. There are no newer collectibles or reproductions. The center defines an antique as being a minimum of 50 years old.

When asked about customer comments, Luan said, “Not a day goes by that we don’t hear a compliment about the shopping experience at the Gurnee Antique Center. Whether it is from an avid collector who finds a rare and wonderful antique, a person looking for a gift, someone who wants something beautiful for their home or a contented spouse resting in our comfortable chairs, the response is the same – ‘Shopping here is great.’”

As one of Chicagoland’s largest antique malls, the Gurnee Antique Center strives to bring the customer an aesthetically stimulating setting, exceptional service and top quality antique merchandise. The spacious 24,000-square-foot building is home to dealers featuring a range of the highest quality antiques: furniture, fine porcelain, pottery, art glass, Depression and cut glassware, primitives, vintage jewelry and clothing, art, sports memorabilia, advertising , … you name it, and you’ll likely find it at the Gurnee Antique Center.

Shoppers entering the mall are struck by the open feeling, wide aisles and great lighting. All the dealers decorate their booths as they choose, so you may see barn board siding in one booth, colorfully painted walls with or without borders in another, while the next may have a combination of wallpaper, chair rail or plain paint. Each is distinctive and in keeping with the items a dealer is selling. The checkout area is always decorated with the Watkins’ holiday collections of hundreds of Santas at Christmas, jack-o-lanterns and witches at Halloween, romantic hearts and cupid and so on. All items displayed are true antiques the Watkins have collected and treasured through the years.

The current manager is George Zukowski, who accepted the position last fall. His previous experience includes being a full-time dealer and manager of an antique mall in New York. One of his jobs is to maintain the quality of the merchandise.

“I do a daily check of booths to make sure the merchandise is appropriate for the standards of the center,” Zurkowski said.

Zurkowski has many insights into the antiques business. “We need to interest the current generation in antiques. Most of the established dealers are older, and fewer young people are choosing the field, especially on a full-time basis.” He feels that skillfully-made reproductions hurt the market and many times new customers do not buy for the history or background of an antique piece – they buy for the “look” of it. He adds, “EBay has leveled the field and taken away the excitement of the ‘hunt’ for that special item.”

Experience tells Zurkowski that the challenge for antique dealers and the Gurnee Antique Center is to broaden their view. He said, “We need to interest designers in utilizing antiques, stressing not just the history of the piece but also its functionality. Newly married couples can furnish their homes with quality antique furniture often more economically than buying new – and the old has been made more substantially.”

Zurkowski said antique centers can expand their vision in terms of their clientele. The Gurnee Antique Center encourages bus tours and is open for groups, such as a local historical society to rent the facility after-hours for meetings or fund-raising events, complete with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Strolling the wide aisles you will find a large variety of items ranging in price from many thousands to a couple of dollars. One of the higher-priced items, a large horse,  could trot into your home for $7,995. In the same booth a colorful 28-inch game board is ready to grace a family room for $495.

Furniture is plentiful and diverse. A cherry bowed-front chest with original hardware circa 1910 is priced at $395. Less functional but very striking in appearance is a Chinese piece that looked like a work table or sewing table. With hundreds of hand-painted gold figures on a black base, it would brighten up any room. Made early in the 19th century, it is priced at $1,950. A primitive cobbler’s bench, with sectioned drawer and leather seat is available for $495.

Several dealers carry only jewelry; others have a partial inventory of jewelry. A sterling pendant with beautiful agate was available for $325. Its size made it very noticeable, as the pendant was 3 inches wide and 2 inches high. Artwork of all types is plentiful, including prints, lithographs, etchings, water colors and oil paintings. One booth has a  primitive oil painting of a child, about 20 inches by 14 inches, priced at $490.

For more information call 847-782-9094 or visit