CUBA CITY, Wis. — To Becky Thommen, the best holiday gifts have unique stories.
Ornaments that date to bygone eras are a testament to the enduring beauty of careful craftsmanship. Antique Nativity sets have been silent witnesses to generations of Christmas mornings.
Each of those stories is unique and priceless, according to Thommen, owner of Junque Stops Here in Cuba City.
“One story might be different from the next, even in the same item,” she said. “You’re preserving history. Someone else once got it and loved it. And hopefully, the person who gets it now will love it, too.”
As the holidays approach, demand for antiques is growing, according to Thommen. Her business always sees an uptick in traffic this time of year as shoppers search for something with a little more character than the newest mass-produced gadget.
“We’re really busy as long as the weather holds out,” Thommen said.
Other antique shop owners also report enjoying a holiday uptick.
“Generally speaking, if it’s made for consumption, it’s going to be available multiple places online or at brick-and-mortar stores,” said Bill Karberg, owner of Peace of the Past in Galena, Ill. “With antiques, you’re going to find something here or at other antique stores that’s truly unique.”
Karberg, who operates two storefronts on Galena’s popular Main Street, has many theories about holiday gift-givers.
Many people believe something has to be new and shiny to have value, he said.
“If it’s not made in China and shrink-wrapped, it doesn’t make a good gift,” Karberg said. “It’s a mindset that is perpetuated constantly in advertising, and understandably so.”
But for others, “there’s always a fascination with some of the things that you’ve never seen before.”
“Most importantly, it’s the aspect of being able to buy something you can’t get anywhere else,” Karberg said.
Due to the eclectic nature of antiques, there aren’t any gifts that are particularly popular around the holidays, according to Thommen. It’s very subjective and individualized.
“(People like) a lot of mid-century Christmas (items), like the aluminum trees and the shiny, bright ornaments,” she said. “I would say the Victorian ornaments, when you can find them. They’re getting harder and harder to come by.”
Karberg said a large subset of the population is devoted to the concept of books as gifts.
“Old books make a good gift,” he said. “Books can be so personal. ... With something like a book, you can really dial into what the person is interested in, by author or subject matter or whatever the case may be.”
Thommen, who has been in business for five years, has seen a recent surge in the number of younger customers. She attributes part of that interest to the “green” nature of antiques, which, by their nature, are recycled and reused.
“The past two years it seems more like the younger generation is getting into more of the vintage,” Thommen said. “For a while, it seemed like they wanted not much to do with it all.”
Karberg said TV shows such as “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” might be helping a younger generation learn the value of historical items. He has, on multiple occasions, witnessed the pull of antiques on even reluctant shoppers.
“It’s fun to see a young person, whether it’s a kid or someone in their early 20s, you can tell they’re drug in here by their family or their girlfriend,” he said. “Then, they get in here and they’re fascinated, and the same people have to drag them out of here.”