By Matthew Gundrum —
Antique stores suffer from a terrible tragedy in contemporary society: often seen and rarely acknowledged. Typically nestled in the corners of quaint, downtown sprawls, these stores exist much in silence. Yet, when one enters this particular sort of establishment, the vivid histories of decades past let out a deafening roar.
Menomonie is an antiquing destination. Several stores in the area coalesce to create a sublime experience of historical explorations.
Much like the items that reside within, each store possesses a rich, colorful story.
Town & Country Antiques was the first antique store in Menomonie’s downtown area. Linda Chase, who opened the store in the early 2000s, came from Colorado to raise her family in a friendly, small-town area. She originally worked at the Mabel Tainter but soon noticed a massive gap within the downtown dynamic.
“I was at the Mabel Tainter one day, and I was looking out the window at all the stores that were downtown,” she said. It was during this time that she came upon a stark realization.
“Why isn’t there an antique store here in this cute little college town?”
The idea was a product of her deep love for antiques, an interest that was developed as a child through antiquing expeditions with her aunt. She had been collecting since then, and, when she came to Menomonie, she had enough items to start a store.
Today, Town & Country Antiques is the largest antique store in Menomonie, possessing 5,000 square feet and two floors. The establishment is multi-dealer, meaning the several vendors pay upkeep to reside within and sell their goods.
Estate Emporium is the another establishment with the same model: multiple dealers with varied product lines.
The store is co-owned by Mary Manthei and Bonnie Trimble. The two connected years ago when Trimble, a dealer at the time, proposed to open a store with Manthei.
“It was my dream to have a shop. As far as dreams go, it’s not half bad,” said Trimble. Having this store is a manifestation of what her parents had always wanted to do.
Manthei, on the other hand, got into antiquing as a way to recover from a job loss.
“Right after 9/11 the tech stock industry collapsed, so all the computer businesses took a hit,” said Manthei. Her company was heavily invested in computer design. “They laid off half the company in one day, and I thought, what am I going to do?”
In order to make money while she searched for jobs, she began selling antiques. And she was good at it.
“I bought a box of hankies for twelve bucks at an auction,” she said. “Two of them were from the 1904 presidential election in which William Jennings Bryan ran for the third time and lost again. I sold them for over seven-hundred fifty a piece.”
But not all antique stores in Menomonie possess the same multi-dealer model seen in Estate Emporium and Town and Country.
Triangle Art & Antiques is the sole project of University of Wisconsin–Stout professor Joan Navarre.
“I bought the building to live here. I didn’t know what to do with [the first] floor and I love art and antiques so I decided I’d open up a store. So I do it more as a hobby because my main job is teaching,” said Navarre.
A unifying theme of Navarre’s products is beauty and elegance. What she lacks in quantity she makes up for in quality. Much of her items are handpicked with a meticulous attention to detail.
“It’s about beauty and story, but it’s also about history and history informs who we are,” said Navarre in regards to her philosophy on antiques. “Do we want to repeat the past or do we want to imagine a future informed by the past?”
These sentiments from Joan were echoed by Linda Chase: history is inextricably tied to the future.
“[Antique stores carry] on the history of what our lives used to be like. How we used to live,” said Chase. “I think history is important. It’s hard to move forward unless you know what the past is like.”
These stores are shrines dedicated to honoring the past, and their presence here in Menomonie is essential for preserving historical awareness. But the items within, possessing a unique charm, are what’s truly special. As Bonnie Trimble said, “you never know whose heart you might touch.”