For thrifter/junker antique dealers Fonda Van Beek and Linda Van Der Brink, repurposing vintage finds isn’t confined to their merchandise. They operate The Church, located in Alvord, Iowa, out of a converted Catholic Church.
In 2018, the pair turned the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church into their storefront, giving the house of worship a homey feel, replete with retro, vintage and antique finds. Alvord, a tiny Dutch town of fewer than 200 inhabitants, is located about 45 minutes southeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and 70 miles north of Sioux City, Iowa.
The women met almost 30 years ago at Grace Community Church, immediately bonding over a shared love of antiques and fixer upper houses. Years ago, the pair purchased an old house and repaired its old hardwood floors.
“We’re getting a little older to be flipping houses,” Van Beek says with a laugh.
Van Der Brink and her husband, Ed, bought the 1960-era church building about a decade ago and used it for storage space. The church had merged with another congregation and the building went for a low price. The couple’s bread and butter business is Van Der Brink Trucking. Before opening the Alvord store, Van Der Brink worked for Van Beek for several years at Nearly New Town, a thrift and consignment business in nearby Rock Valley, Iowa. Van Beek later sold Newly New Town and now works at Treasures on Main doing floral arrangements. Van Beek has stepped away from the daily running of The Church in order to better care for her husband Gary and his health issues.
“When Fonda sold Nearly New Town, it was all decorated with antiques and old things, so we had so much of that left and brainstormed what to do with it,” Van Der Brink notes.
As the pair moved in merchandise, the name “The Church” just seemed to stick. Sometimes, former church members stop by the church for sentimental reasons, just to look around and chat with the store’s proprietors.
“We liked doing the same types of things and have crazy ideas,” Van Der Brink says. “One works off the other. We complement each other.”
The space is divided much like a house, with rooms decorated to look like a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, living room, etc. That way, customers can envision what the items will look like when placed in their homes. Plus, says Van Beek, it makes the cavernous space easier to navigate for shoppers. The place is on one level with no basement.
“It’s not all in a line on shelves,” Van Beek notes. “(For instance) the kitchen room has a table with dishes set up.”
Van Beek is most drawn to what she calls a “shabby chic crusty look.” Signs of age such as rust, scratches and chipped paint give furnishings that “lived in” look.
“I don’t paint over it if I don’t have to. I will fix a leg but that is about it. We’ve found that sells the best, rather than the finished furniture,” Van Beek says.
Van Der Brink likes enamelware and old cupboards. The cupboards in their store are not only for sale, but double as handy display cases.
“We don’t have a specific theme in the store. We like a little bit of everything,” Van Der Brink notes.
In winter 2019, the church was remodeled with new floors installed and barn door shutters put on the windows.
The inventory is gathered from local estate sales, garage sales and from the general public bringing in items to sell. Two Morton Buildings located about a block away from The Church harbor the overflow of product.
“Linda and I always made sure one to two times a month to go dumpster diving or to garage sales to look for furniture that needed some love,” Van Beek explains.
Prices are competitive.
“If I get something cheap, I sell it very reasonable. That’s one remark a lot of customers make. I’d rather keep things moving than sit with it forever,” Van Der Brink says.
The Church is located on a lot that is nearly an acre in size — ideal for its seasonal flea markets that draw approximately 30 vendors from neighboring towns.
“In the summer we put out flowerpots and old bikes outside. My husband keeps saying don’t make it look so junky,” Van Der Brink says with a laugh.
The duo looks forward to the Christmas Open House, whose date has yet to be determined. Van Der Brink enjoys redecorating and reorganizing the store for the holiday season.
As there are no restaurants in Alvord, Van Der Brink moonlights as a cook for local women’s clubs, using the fellowship hall of The Church for luncheons. She is also known to prepare meals for truckers passing through town.
COVID-19 shut the business down for a few months. Van Beek limits her time out in public, due to her husband’s health concerns. Van Der Brink is more than happy to keep the business going through these uncertain times. The store does not offer shipping.
“We’ve had a lot of fun over the years. Lots of laughter,” Van Beek says.
The Church is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, and to learn about upcoming events, Van Der Brink may be reached at 712-451-9367. Follow The Church on Facebook @THECHURCHvintagestore. The Church is located at 301 Seefield St., Alvord, Iowa.