As an adult, it has become very apparent to me how my childhood and the people in it have shaped my life. I am halfway thru my 30’s and it is just now starting to make sense. How I parent, my career, my hobbies and passions, even where I live has been influenced by those closest to me. I often get asked how I got into antiques and vintage, and I tell the story of my father. A man who saw the beauty in things others deemed as trash. He could find any piece of furniture no one wanted on the side of the road or in a ravine and bring it back to life. You needed a front door, no worries, just call Phil and he would find you one for free, refurbish it, and happily help you install it. He was proud of his resourcefulness and was more than willing to share his talents and knowledge with others.
It was 1985 and my father ushered me and my 2 older siblings to his rusty 1979 Chevy pickup truck. I was 5. We were all on our way to the city dump, one stop on our weekly treasure hunt. I looked forward to this day the most. I got to spend extra time with my dad and no two saturdays were ever the same. We were born and raised in East St. Paul, MN. Back then it was a relatively safe, middle class side of the city and was a neat place to live. It had a small town vibe where everyone knew each other, and there was a very strong sense of community. We drove all over the city in search of anything old and unique. He had his usual stops garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores, and small little holes in the wall that no one in their right mind today would ever consider taking their kids. The places we visited were dark, dingy, dirty, and were run by the most interesting characters.
Tiger Jacks in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul was one such place. Tiger Jack Rosenbloom was an ex-boxer and community icon. He was always perched right outside the store in his chair. Below is a picture of Tiger Jacks just as how I remember it. Sadly, Tiger Jack passed away in 2001 at the age of 94 and his little Do-It-Yourself store on the corner of St. Anthony and Dale St. has since closed. The shack along with some of it’s contents have been donated to the MN Historical Society, with a memorial in it’s place.
Next on our excursion we would usually hit up Payne Avenue in the heart of the East Side. This once bustling business district was founded by Swedish, German, and Italian immigrants in the middle of the 19th century. In the 70’s and 80’s, both sides of the street were lined with antique and curiosity shops. Our father would let us loose to explore the shops while he looked through the bins of LP’s. We had a blast having the freedom to roam and explore.
With a lot of the middle class families moving into the suburbs in the 90’s this beautiful historical stretch fell victim to crime and gangs. Many of the businesses closed and these architectural wonders became vacant. There is now a renewed interest in this unique neighborhood and a lot of the buildings and homes have been restored. The once dilapidated Victorian homes that stood empty for years are breathing new life. New restaurants and shops are popping up on Payne Avenue and the neighborhood is once again vibrant with culture and history. This little main street had always intrigued me. No two buildings look the same and walking into them is like stepping back through time. It is no wonder I now call the Payne/Phalen neighborhood home. It isn’t for everyone. In fact when I fell in love with my dream home, a turn of the century Dutch Colonial Revival in the heart of Payne, a lot of people thought I was crazy. Below is a picture of what Payne Avenue looks like today. What’s not to love? The beautiful Victorian architecture is still intact and most of the commercial buildings and residences hold their original character.
When he did find something extraordinary his whole face lit up. He had this sort of contagious excitement about it that made others excited as well. He passed away from cancer in 2011 and it wasn’t until his death that I started to appreciate all that he taught us. Cleaning out his workshop and garage, I realized he really did have a good eye for knowing what to buy. A sort of innate instinct that I am not even sure he was aware of. Like little sponges we soaked it all up. We found everything from antique door knobs to coo coo clocks to rare pottery. Not wanting to throw away his collection, Pretty Poppies Vintage was born. At first it was just a way to clear the clutter, but I loved it so much it has turned into a full time hobby. You will never find wholesale vintage goods in my shop. Everything is picked by hand, because just like my father, that rush of excitement and my need to share it with others is what keeps me going.