By Abigail Laub
Jill Walker admits she still likes to play “dress up.”
The owner of Opidell’s on National Avenue in Lexington, Ky., shares her love for all things vintage and antique with her customers at the tiny shop that once was a mechanic’s garage.
“I’ve always loved these type of items, antiques vintage and collectables,” she said. “My grandmother’s house was full of this type of stuff, and as a little girl it was always so fun to go over there and play.”
Jill and her husband, Chad Walker, discovered they enjoyed attending yard sales, auctions and estate sales together.
“It was a lot of fun and gave us an opportunity to travel and collect,” she said.
Chad, who works full time in property management and real estate, helps out his wife on her new venture and is developing an eye for antiques in the process.
“I didn’t really have any eye for any of the antiques that Jill did until we met,” he said. “Everything in our house and in here has some sort of history. We purchase history, and it’s really cool.”
The store was inspired by Jill’s grandmother, Opidell, who loved to collect. Her grandmother, who hated the name Opidell, was “a teeny little lady with a fiery spirit,” Jill said. She remembers going to her grandmother’s house as a child, playing with all of the unique things and dressing up in her clothes.
As a “grown-up” working in what she described as a “soul crushing” corporate job with “great perks,” Jill decided to honor her grandmother and share her bright, colorful and cheery collection of antiques with the rest of the world.
And for Chad’s sake, she laughed, Opidell’s had to be opened. When the couple married, Chad’s things got kicked to the curb to make room for her antique collection in his house.
“The hobby turned into a side business as a way for us to collect and enjoy the items, but then pass them on so we don’t end up on an episode of ‘Hoarders,’” Jill joked. “If it doesn’t sell, then I’ll take it back home.”
The secret to collecting vintage and antique pieces is to only find what you actually like, she said. Develop your own style and concentrate on finding unique new purposes for old items.
“I say just be creative, don’t just envision it as its original purpose,” Jill said. “Like a Mason jar: It can be used for many different things, like a vase or to hold cotton balls. I use them at home to make sun tea. Be creative and don’t be afraid to use something beyond its original purpose. That’s part of the fun.”
Jill said her husband is very creative in repurposing items as well. He surprised her at home by turning rustic chicken feeders into flower planters.
At Opidell’s, Chad’s rustic and industrial taste is merged with her feminine and frilly flair. The black-and-white tiled shop has everything from a cast iron crib, maps, dishes, furniture, clothing, accessories and a bevy of household items begging to be repurposed.
The shop is like her little clubhouse, Jill said.
“I’m still, in a way, like a little girl,” she added. “I like to play dress up. I have a closet full of vintage dresses. My mom is a seamstress and she sizes them for me. I like to dress up in my clothes and go out. In my home, I love vintage kitchen items.”
Jill hopes people will visit the shop to buy something, of course, but also to take a chance to reminisce about times past and regain some nostalgia in a busy world.
Part of Chad and Jill Walkers’ inspiration to open an antiques store came from a successful vintage store on Regency Road, Street Scene.
Open for five years, owners Kathryne Wiseman and Terri Wood say their shop, Street Scene, appeals to a very broad age range. And they love seeing new shops like Opidell’s open because the vintage stores in Lexington all complement each other.
Kathryne and Terri said they love collecting things they grew up around and gasp with delight when antiques like a 1962 working turquoise typewriter are brought into the shop.
The idea of what is considered “vintage” is shifting, they said. Items from the 1960s and ’70s are becoming popular.
“When we started this business, no one was doing ’60s or ’70s, and they kind of giggled at what we were buying,” Wiseman said. “They were amused at what we were interested in. Dealers weren’t interested in it. There was an abundance (of items). Trends are going to continue changing.”
People are not throwing away things as quickly as they used to, Kathryne said, and there is a new appreciation for used items – from a green perspective and an appreciation for the past.
What she and Terri do is “almost like a rescue mission,” Kathryne said – rescuing older things and giving them new homes.
The duo enjoys setting up the store like a home and showing customers how antique items can be utilized, Terri said. “Rooms” are set up to cast visions. And clothing is modeled on mannequins combining new trends with old pieces.
“For example, right now several of the mannequins have cut-off high waist shorts with big sweaters,” Wiseman said. “They’re all vintage, but it’s clearly a modern look. We take the old pieces and show how they can be used with today’s fashions.”
Street Scene is brimming with vintage pieces that bring back memories and demand appreciation for the days of yesteryear.
At Scout on Liberty Road, multiple booths set up by various vendors are a reflection of each collector’s unique personality, said vendor and store associate Cindy Leonard.
She chuckled as she remembered that in her booth, she once sold an Australian purse that was made out of a kangaroo scrotum.
The warehouse feel of Scout lends itself to bizarre things, and Cindy admitted, “the stranger the better.”
Scout has been known to sell odd items like stuffed squirrels, a jar of human teeth and rodent skulls, along with many perfectly normal items, such as art, furniture, jewelry and an overwhelming variety of household and recreational items.
Cindy said she loves shopping for antiques because of the rarity and the quality of construction.
“Also, today you can’t get any greener than to shop in a store like this,” she added. “It’s already been made and you’re shopping locally – the money is going totally local. Everything is staying right here. You can feel good about what you’re getting.”
As a vendor, Cindy joked that it is a great way for her to be able to shop all the time, yet not have to worry about where it is all going to fit in her Victorian home, an antique and vintage showcase.
She encourages people to not worry about mixing centuries.
“Just get things that you like and think are interesting and don’t worry about if it matches perfectly,” Cindy said. “Matchy-matchy is out.”
Scout owner Jeff Perkins said antique pieces in a modern setting can bring “warmth and a sense of history to the home, and often will define the space.”
“At Scout, we are eclectic beyond the ordinary, and it is evident after just a few minutes in the store,” he said. “We encourage our customers to follow our lead and not be afraid to mix the pieces they love just because their home suggests a certain style or period.”
The store tries to move all inventory within 60 days to keep clients interested, Jeff said.
It is not a hard thing to do; Scout offers hard-to-find Kentucky and Lexington historical items.
“We’ve had rare Henry Faulkner sketches, items from the personal collections of former governors, and even Belle Breezing memorabilia,” he said.
The Bluegrass has a wide sampling of antique stores begging to be explored. You just might find the perfect piece to finish off a living space.
Tips for Beginning Antique Collectors
The owners of Opidell’s, Street Scene and Scout offer these tips to newbies:
• Be creative and open-minded. Think about ways a vintage item can be repurposed in your home.
• Think green. It costs less to buy used items and you’re saving them from ending up in a landfill. Major green points.
• There are no rules. Buy things you think are interesting and don’t worry about it they match your décor, Cindy Leonard of Scout says. Matchy-matchy is out!
Abby Laub is a writer for BG Magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]