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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004 06:50 am

Grace about town 2-19-04

A bucket o' fun

My dad and brother David have an antique shop, Ruby Sled Antiques. Dad started it because Mom told him if he didn't do something with all the stuff he'd collected over the years, she'd move out. Sometimes great things come out of having your back against the wall.

Even though Dad has merchandise at the Ruby Sled and at an antique mall, my parents still have enough stuff in their basement to throw a dinner party for a hundred people and to furnish another house. If I ever need any kind of anything, I ask Mom, who says, "Ask your Dad," and then whatever it is, like a stew pot or a glass vase or a set of Chinese soup spoons, will magically appear from somewhere deep in the basement.

Although I've never come close to matching Dad's zeal for collecting, I do like looking at the antiques, and sometimes I'll even buy something. One of my favorite purchases is a plastic-coated cardboard "Whipped Butter" container. Dad has given me lots of gifts, including an antique china service for 20 and, just acquired this Christmas, a large set of silverware. I used to throw large dinner parties when I lived in LA, and now that I'm so flush with serving stuff, I have no excuse to not start doing that again right away.

Among the interesting things Dad has shown me are the antique malls in and around Springfield. They're packed with such an assortment of unusual and interesting items that I don't understand why more people haven't been to them.

At antique malls you can get lovely antique furniture that's much less expensive than the new stuff. And not only are the malls entertaining, but you'll also come across things from your childhood, or things your grandmother had. Me, I see all kinds of stuff that my parents have in their home right now.

Last Sunday, I visited a few of these antique malls. I started at the Barrel Antique mall. It's off the Toronto Road exit on I-55, just across from the Cracker Barrel restaurant. The Barrel Mall is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dad and David have a booth at the Barrel, and every time I'm there I wonder why I haven't bought this pair of blue 1940s Japanese figurines that Dad has for sale. Or why I haven't asked for them for my birthday. But usually, by the time I leave the mall, I'll have forgotten all about the figurines because there are so many other things to look at.

One booth has a wall of Pez dispensers. And I found a nice complement to my Whipped Butter container, a "Sweet Home Brand" Pure Lard bucket. A display of old cameras fills the shelves of another booth. This same booth has a bottle that says "Old Abe Ginger Ale" on it; I didn't know Mr. Lincoln had a soda pop side business.

The best place for jewelry at any of the antique malls I visited is booth #122 at the Barrel. It has cases crammed with all kinds of necklaces, earrings, pendants and watches. Dad says the people at Recycled Records own the case, and I say they're doing an A+ job of stocking every kind of vintage jewelry a person could desire.

Further down I-55 is another antique mall well worth the short drive. It's Lisa's Antique Mall, actually Lisa's I & II, at Auburn Exit 82. The malls are open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Each building is full of a mind-boggling array of stuff.

Lisa's I has just about anything you might need. Like a folk art pelican, for example, labeled as either a potholder or a ribbon holder. I loved a display of old sacks hanging on the wall of one booth. There were flour, corn meal, and feed sacks, all neatly pressed and hanging up. I don't exactly know what you'd do with them, except, of course, display them on your wall. I must go back and start my collection.

I've always been partial to tin replicas of vintage signs, but I found some authentic ones at Lisa's. They're not cheap, but they're highly entertaining. One is an advertisement for Mt. Cabin soda, with the slogan "just sweet enough, just tart enough."

Lisa's II is like I, only slightly smaller. It, too, is stuffed with delightful things. A Wurlitzer accordion, a collection of table fans, an English lawn bowling set, a KGB uniform, glass, china, chenille bedspreads, toys, clothes. The list goes on and on.

So next time you have the urge to shop, please try an antique mall. I promise, a good time will be had by all.

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