WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. – The adage goes that you can’t go home again. But if you’ve got a savvy business plan, you can probably make it turn a profit.
When Calvin Whetstone arrives at work at Whetstone’s Antiques, he’s walking the oh-so-familiar hallways of his childhood home, which has grown up to become the charming Whetstone’s Antiques shop.
The walls throughout the home are painted a rich, soothing tan — a bit of a change from happy pastels his mom favored. The rounded concrete porch steps that lead to the door have been replaced with more modern ones. The kitchen still plays host to all the usual accoutrements — egg beaters, rolling pins, cookie cutters — except that they’re for sale now.
On this day, Shelia Toltzmann is among the first to arrive at the shop for a special open house event. Toltzmann is a childhood friend of the Whetstones. Her father, Frank Wilson, was the first customer Jack Whetstone had when he opened his antiques shop in a former service station in the 1960s, she recalled, and she was among the first to come to the shop when Cal took over the family business.
This past summer, Toltzmann pitched in to help out at the shop’s first-ever picnic, which gave her a chance to get to see people she hadn’t run into in years.
“It was so country picnic, church picnic. It was so much fun,” she recalled.
|Owners: Calvin & Anne Whetstone
Location: 902 Highway 73 S.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Sunday; additionally during holiday seasons, special events
Shop’s Focus: Primitives, furniture, seasonal decorations, garden antiques
Opened: Started in the 1960s by Calvin’s father, Jack Whetstone
Future: Daughter Jennifer may be the third generation to sell antiques
Making trips down memory lane fun is a key part of the philosophy of Whetstone’s Antiques. Calvin Whetstone took time to answer Antique Trader’s questions about his business and his personal love of antiques.
Antique Trader: What types of pieces do you personally collect?
Calvin Whetstone: Vintage Christmas, gardening items and horse/farm-related items. Slides, sleds and more sleds!
AT: When, how and why did you first get interested in antiques and collecting?
CW: My dad owned the antique shop for many years, and also, we were the recipients of numerous family antiques.
AT: What’s your first memory related to antiques and collecting?
CW: My mother was a very sentimental person and kept everything. She would show us well-loved pieces from her life of saving and tell us stories about growing up on the farm using many of the things we collect and sell today. I also enjoyed attending flea markets with my dad and checking out the great antiques he would bring back from auctions and private estates.
AC: What’s the favorite “find” you’ve ever made for your shop?
CW: My favorite find was a cool country cupboard found on an old rural estate. It is really cool.
AC: Please share a bit about the history of your shop, its property and its buildings.
CW: My maternal grandparents purchased the property in 1918 and built the barn and house. My parents purchased the property in 1948, adding onto the house, and doing so again in the ’50s. My father built the gas station in 1950, which opened under the Standard Oil brand. In the ’60s, he began selling antiques, and by 1959 had switched over totally to antiques. We already owned some of the original farm property, and in 1997, we purchased the remainder of the property and the business.
We re-opened the former gas station antique shop, keeping the name Whetstone’s Antiques, and last November moved the shop into the farmhouse.
AT: You have some fascinating display pieces, such as the “Tesser Dresser,” the white Kelvinator stove and the bread board in the kitchen. Please share a little bit of the history of those pieces, and why you chose to make them part of your shop.
CW: The primitive dresser in the shop was brought to Wisconsin by my maternal grandparents when they moved back to the area from British Columbia (Canada). The old dresser was in the house they purchased in B.C. Years after my grandmother passed away, my aunt and uncle offered me the dresser for the shop. It is a unique piece and makes a wonderful display piece.
The old dough board belonged to my grandmother and was made by her brother long ago, probably in the ’20s or ’30s. The exact date is unknown. It was handed down to my mother and then a sister, from whom I obtained it. It is also used as a display piece, though I have had many requests from customers to purchase it.
The vintage Kelvinator range was obtained from a local recycling business. It is in excellent condition and fits in well with our décor. It is a real find.”
AT: I’m sure that many customers have made offers to buy those display pieces. Could you part with any of them if the price was right?
CW: Certainly the day may come when I would sell the Kelvinator. At some point, I may find a piece I like better. The dresser and the dough board are keepers and will be handed down to my children.
AT: Your shop held an old-fashioned picnic this past summer. What prompted you to do the picnic? How did it go over with customers?
CW: We wanted to offer something different from our usual sales, and because we were celebrating our 40th anniversary, we decided to do the country picnic. We set up canopies in the lawn and grilled out for the customers. It was not advertised to the public but was offered to our customers on our mailing list as a special thank-you for their support. Many of our customers also were patrons of the shop when my dad operated it. The picnic was a great success, and I know our customers really enjoyed it.
Around this same time, my sister, Rhonda, held a book signing at the shop for a book she wrote, called “Saratoga Sands,” which features stories about events which took place in the area long ago. Our farmhouse is featured in her book. The book is still available at the shop.
AT: What are your plans for special events at the shop grounds in 2010 and beyond?
CW: We are planning to continue the summer picnic as an annual event. For 2010, we have already invited other vendors to set up tents to sell their merchandise. I would still like to open the carriage house, and we do hold occasional barn sales in the old barn on the property. We opened it for two weekends this past fall.
At holiday time, we sell trees and fresh-cut greens grown on the farm. In conjunction with this, I would like to offer horse-drawn sleigh rides or bobsled rides sometime in the future. We own the horses and there is still plenty of acreage to do something like that. Because it will add a significant amount of time, that plan is on the back burner.
AT: What is your mantra/mission for your business and your customers?
CW: My mission is to keep the family business going by offering great finds and personalized customer service to shoppers who desire a shopping experience like those we used to find in an earlier time, when life was not so hectic.
AT: What are your customers buying or asking about?
CW: We continue to seek special and unusual items and seek them out wherever we can. In August, my daughter, son and grandson and I attended the world’s longest yard sale to look for regional antiques. We focused on Southern Kentucky and Tennessee. We rented a U-Haul trailer and brought back really fun things. We sell a lot of outdoor furniture, farm and garden antiques. Most people have room outside, even if the house is full. We also add new gifts, candles and decorating items for each season — things we all want or need.
AT: What are you doing to ensure sales?
CW: The shop has been here for a long time already. I owe so much to my daughter, Jennifer, who helps out so much and keeps me going. The rest of my family and some friends also pitch in when I need extra help. They are all so willing. I am sure Jennifer plans to continue our business well into the future. Antique shops seem to be struggling and closing in many areas, but by keeping our customers coming back on regular basis with fun sales and events, we are able to continue our family business on a manageable scale.
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