More than just antiques

Published 9:19 am Friday, May 20, 2011

NORTHWOOD, Iowa — The Rusty Flea is more than an antique shop.

“Emporium might be a better description,” said owner Kathy Voorhes.

A potpourri of antiques, vintage collectibles, fine crafts, furniture, beads and original woodworking are just a few of the items to be found in the store.

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“I’m always looking for unique and original things,” said Voorhes. “I keep a list of who’s looking for what, and what people want to spend.”

A large collection of antique rug beaters — used to literally beat the dust out of area rugs before vacuum cleaners were invented — made of metal are popular as wall décor. Although designs include dragonfly and pretzel shapes, no two are made alike.

To keep with the seasons, Voorhes is currently working on outdoor décor. She has wagon wheels for the garden, along with repurposed old plates and glassware for the yard and garden. She’s also working on making wind chimes crafted from antique silverware to hang outdoors.

Voorhes also has a “men’s corner” where she keeps collectibles that interest mainly the men, including old car manuals, hubcaps, a hatchet collection and Budweiser collectibles. A couple of starter coils from the original Model T are a few of the rare pieces in the “men’s corner.”

Perhaps the most unique piece in The Rusty Flea is a viewing table from the 1800s. It was brought to her from a former funeral home on Broadway Avenue in Albert Lea. According to Voorhes, the lady who brought it in didn’t know what it was. Neither did Voorhes. A local history buff was brought in to identify the piece.

Vintage items, including blonde-colored furniture from the ’50s and ’60s are especially popular with the younger crowds today.

“That’s not easy to come by,” she said. “People just threw it out over the years.”

Voorhes is always on the lookout for antique and vintage items, which she hunts for and collects from people who are cleaning out their own homes and through estates. Her No. 1 rule is that it’s all in good condition — and it’s a rule that’s served Voorhes well.

Since she opened The Rusty Flea on Central Avenue in Northwood, Iowa, which is the town’s “Main Street,” last September, she’s had people visit from all over the state and beyond. Many are now repeat customers.

Unlike many stores of this nature, like items are displayed together. She said another key to her success is that items are arranged more like a gift shop, with themes.

Her latest venture with the store is the gallery, which is another room attached to the store that will include fine art, unique beadwork and original paintings, just to name a few. Like a gallery she ran in Colorado — which included 20 original artists showcasing silverwork, alabaster carvings and blacksmithing — Voorhes wanted someplace to showcase her own work and the unique collections of others. A collection of photographs by Julie Bronson of Glenville will be included in the new gallery.

Voorhes hopes the gallery, slated to open in about three weeks, will continue in making Northwood’s “downtown” area more of a destination shopping spot for locals and visitors alike.

“We’ve got another gal getting ready to open with hand crafts and country-type things, so it will be nice to have another shop like that,” she said.