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Shady Lawn Antiques in Walla Walla Celebrates 20 Years of Business

April 6, 2015

I wrote this article as a part of the series that I write for our local newspaper, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletion. The series focuses on antiques as seen through the focus of our Shady Lawn Antiques business. This article was published on Sunday, March 1, 2015.

March 2014 (4)Twenty Years of Shady Lawn Antiques

We have just completed our twentieth year of selling antiques in the butterscotch yellow colored Shady Lawn Creamery buildings. The buildings were not always this color and the family business was not always antiques.

My great-grandfather, Ward Emigh, purchased the Walla Walla Creamery 1897. When his son John took over in 1922, the business was renamed Shady Lawn Creamery. It continued to operate as a creamery until my mother, Mary Emigh retired. My wife Jill and I purchased the industrial gray Shady Lawn Creamery buildings and opened the antiques shop in December 1994.

One hundred and eighteen years later the Emigh family is still doing business in the same location. The exterior industrial gray building color did not reflect the vibrant antique business that was being conducted inside so we looked for an alternative. A butterscotch yellow 1920-30s metal Shady Lawn Ice Cream sign provided a historically sensitive inspiration and the color match for the new exterior paint scheme.

Each year we take stock of where our business is and what we would like to accomplish in the year to come. The completion of twenty years in the antiques business has prompted me to reflect upon the state of the antiques business in general and specifically the trends over the past twenty years.

The antiques business was significantly different twenty years ago. There were still a large group of people that collected categories of things and were always looking to add something they didn’t have to their collection. We used to hear ‘I collect: dolls, cookie jars, cut glass, depression glass, Roseville pottery, metal spice or tobacco containers (tins)’, and so on. Some people only collected one category but many had several interests.

When we opened Shady Lawn Antiques the antique mall concept was quite popular. The idea was that the mall owner would rent each dealer a space and then also collect a commission on the sales. The mall owner ran the shop and the dealer’s responsibility was to keep their booth arranged and stocked. The theory was that with more dealers, more new inventory would be available.

Since we had more building space than we had antiques to sell, we opened Shady Lawn as an antique mall. Over time we acquired more things and especially more large pieces of furniture. As dealers moved on for one reason or another, we took over the space. From a humble beginning of perhaps one hundred items, our inventory now numbers in the thousands.

The antiques show circuit was strong and vibrant when we began in 1994. There was at least one show per month somewhere in the state. Several of the more prestigious shows had more than two hundred vendors and they even had a waiting list of new vendors that wanted to get in.

Then the advent of the internet and especially eBay sparked the biggest single change in the antiques market ever. Suddenly items that were considered rare could be found on a regular basis. People no longer had to ‘snap something up’ right when they found it. The shows and shops that emphasized collectible, generally small, items began a steady decline. I’ve often heard long time dealers say that the antique business just isn’t the same anymore and it isn’t!

There is still a market for truly unique and especially historical items but the current trend is toward functional and decorative items. The majority of our showroom is now dedicated to fully restored oak furniture and in fact we have the largest selection in Eastern Washington.

We also began building functional and whimsical furniture from reclaimed materials over ten years ago, well before the current upcycled and industrial design trend began. Individuals and wineries are incorporating these pieces, as functional statement pieces, into their own unique styles.

Shady Lawn Antiques has grown and evolved over the past twenty years. We look back at the collectibles era with a bit of nostalgia but we look ahead with even greater excitement to the new Pinterest Look era! We still have a passion for restoring and saving antique furniture but have an even greater passion for the future. We are proud to have been ‘Makers’ even before the advent of the recent ‘Makers Culture’ trend began.

Dave Emigh is the owner of Shady Lawn Antiques and is a fifth generation ‘Walla Wallan’. He writes about antiques and life in the ‘Valley of the Two Wallas’ on his blog: Glimpses of the ever changing inventory can also be seen on Facebook.

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