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Many hands make light the work

Five co-owners sharethe joys, the burdensand the rewards atPickety Place antiques

JACKSONVILLE ' If antique stores are about living in the past, Pickety Place is right at home.

The only modern device in play is the telephone. There isn't a cash register and the screen door out front squeaks. It's cramped inside with barely enough room to stretch your imagination.

A favorite stop for travelers and locals alike, Pickety Place celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, right around the corner from where it began in 1986. Every square foot of the shop on North Fourth Street is stuffed with precious goods from the past ' collectibles deemed worthy for resale by its five owners.

In an era when the roster of antique stores is dwindling nationwide and younger generations consider collecting pass?, Pickety Place is secure because of its business model and location. The shop is both a testament to the foresight of its founders and the flexibility of its present owners.

There's a lot of local history in here, says Jacksonville resident Jane Sauers, who has ventured into the shop every couple of weeks for the past eight years. Sauers visits often enough to spot new treasures brought in by owners Susan Tucker, Alice Gibson, Sonja Swindler, Hildegard Tobin and Verginia Turpin.

— It seems like they all have been doing this long enough to sort through what's collectible and what's not, says Sauers.

Experience and expertise are among the components that have allowed the store to thrive while others have faded away.

There were eight antique stores in Jacksonville when Pickety Place opened on South Third Street in a little house with a picket fence. Today, there are three others with varying days and hours of operation.

Jacksonville used to be a destination town for antique collectors, says Linda Bush. The proprietor of L&K Antiques on Fifth Street since 1968, Bush remembers as many as a dozen competing stores open at the same time.

Everybody has a neighbor selling on eBay, Bush says. eBay hurt this business all over the country and lowered the prices. It's easier to sit at home, watch television and shop off TV. How many small businesses have closed because of that?

Broad-based ownership, low overhead and predictable hours are among the firm's keys to success even in an era when profit margins are declining. It's truly a hobby shop as well, because none of the owners depend on income from the store for their survival.

We all bring our own things in, tagged for sale and have the full run of the store, wherever there is space, says Turpin, a personal banker with South Valley Bank & Trust, who serves as the group's bookkeeper. We split bills, rents, insurance, advertising ... everything is even-steven.

Antique furniture, country accessories, quilts, linens, china, glass, framed prints, books, vintage jewelry, pottery, sterling and paper items are piled from the shop's cement floor to the low-slung ceiling.

But Pickety's owners have neither real property nor assets, other than their inventory.

If we owned the building it would be a bigger headache, Turpin says.

Former Rogue Valley resident Jackie Cauble was among the driving forces to get the co-operative running in an age when most antique stores were family operations.

In the beginning, there were two levels of ownership: key and associate. Key members were on the work schedule and considered full members, while associate members paid a commission to add inventory and tended to be craft oriented. The present owners are all equal partners and long ago moved away from crafts.

The buy-in was &

36;100 20 years ago, escalating to &

36;300 in recent years.

Alice Gibson, whose late mother-in-law Donna was a founding member, says developing expertise is increasingly important.

I read a lot of books and went to a lot of antique shows to begin with, Gibson says. What is collectible and what is not is different in each decade. There's so much to learn and you can know just enough to be dangerous.

The key to attracting repeat customers is acquiring new goods on trips, auctions, estate sales and people simply wanting to unload private collections.

Tobin is the lone remaining charter member and a native of Boras, Sweden. She moved to the Rogue Valley in 1971 and soon began buying old pieces of furniture from neighbors and refinishing them. She says working every fifth day makes for a manageable schedule.

If there are only one or two people working, you couldn't do it because of the time you spend there, Tobin says. I think that's why a lot of antique stores close after year or two.

There are other reasons the antique and collectible industry is in decline, including the aforementioned eBay. Last month, a Wall Street Journal article detailed how Americans under 30 were simply not collecting things like past generations.

Jim Pearson, who owned Medford Antique Mall until closing it last year, says the unpredictable flow of traffic worsened after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Business was strong before 9/11, Pearson says. But antiques aren't a staple, something people need, they're a luxury item for a lot of people. A lot of people I know in the business from San Francisco and Portland have dropped out since then.

All that indicates the need to be careful when buying collectibles and other goods for resale.

Like any other investment, if it's volatile and risky, you have to know when to get out of it, Gibson says. But most people don't collect for investment, they do it because they love it or it's a hobby.

Refined and specific acquisitions are more important than a generation ago.

You used to be able to collect in more areas and sell it, Tucker says. Now, it's more defined than it used to be and you've got to be a little more savvy.

Many hands make light the work"business@mailtribune.com.

Verginia Turpin, co-owner of Pickety Place in Jacksonville, works the Wednesday shift at the antique store. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven