It's that time again. That season when caffeine-fueled shoppers hit the malls, brave the crowded escalators and clobber or get clobbered by their fellow consumers toting unwieldy bags of the latest must-have gizmos.
But for those brave enough to tear themselves away from this frenzied Santa madness, the town of Snohomish beckons, offering to quench man's primal instincts for shopping and nostalgia at a more leisurely pace.
Billed as the Northwest's antique capital, Snohomish's six-square-block historical district sits on the banks of the Snohomish River ready to woo visitors with attic treasures. A mix of brick, stone and wood buildings, some preserved from the 19th century and the 1920s, lines First Street, the district's main drag. And black iron lampposts grace the storefronts, adding to this theme of days of yore.
"I think the antiques flourish because of the ambience and architecture we have managed to preserve," said John Hager, president of the Historic Snohomish Business Association, whose Collector's Choice restaurant is adorned with vintage photos of the town. "It's the only town in Snohomish (County) on the national historic register. All of these things are extremely important in retaining the character of the town."
With more than a dozen shops and small malls, representing 450 dealers of antiques and collectibles, Snohomish has become a regular hunting ground for avid collectors over the last 17 years. Many come with no particular shopping agenda. Leave the lists at home, they say. The art and pleasure of rummaging Snohomish's interminable aisles of antiques and memorabilia lie in unintentional finds - that old Edison phonograph, a Victorian picture frame or Raggedy Ann's faithful grin.
"It's kind of like a museum tour," said Jim Karr, a Camano Island resident roaming the bottom floor of Black Cat Antiques. "It takes you back to an old memory."
Those who shop regularly on First Street and have become unwitting collectors note that they're drawn by a down-home rapport they've established with the dealers, as well as the strong craftsmanship they find in many of the antique items.
"When you buy an antique lamp, they're one of a kind," said a customer chatting away an afternoon at Brass Lamps Antiques. "Old lamps are much better in function and style. There's just no comparison."
Snohomish's Star Center Mall houses the district's largest collection of books, china, clothing, jewelry and other bits of the past, representing some 175 dealers. Ghosts drifting in from the earlier part of the century might be amused to see their labor-intensive, obsolete tools drawing interest and money from consumers of a ready-made, mechanized world.
A little less than $300 will buy a clothes wringer with its wood handle appropriately faded and rubber press cracked with age. A Universal washboard can be purchased for $40. And those interested in making butter the old-fashioned way can bring home an oak barrel churner for $250.
For Jen Farrell, a Sultan cabinet finisher, the mall is like one large attic stockpiled with old and obsolete items, like the butter churner, that were once a daily part of her mother's childhood on a Montana ranch. But there's much more to entice at a lower price. And the thrill is hunting for the bargains.
"Antique shopping and garage sale-ing go hand in hand," Farrell said. "If you shop around you'll often find places with cheaper prices. But the fun is (in) checking all this stuff out."
Julie Santangelo, a dealer who graduated from yard sales, has her stall in the Star Center Mall filled with old postcards, pre-1920s photos of the West, and rare cameras such as the 1880s "detective camera," a long wooden box with a small lens peeking from one end. Also in her stall, a scrapbook lies open with its page revealing the storybook-like sketches of 19th-century business cards.
"I just found I liked learning about the objects' history," said Santangelo, who has on occasion delved into the history and culture of the subjects in her vintage photos. "You just get addicted to researching and reading about it."
The joy of personal perusing
Internet Web sites selling antiques pose some competition, she says, but nothing can replace the experience of meandering through the shops.
"I find that many objects are so unique," Santangelo said. "And these are going to be harder to categorize . . . and sell on the Internet."
Among the often chaotic arrangement of wares on this strip were such surprises as Margaret Rudkin's "Pepperidge Farm Cookbook," complete with sketched illustrations; first-run editions of the Nancy Drew mysteries; a "Welcome Back Kotter" paper doll with rub-on and peel-off clothes; stained-glass lampshades; old baseball gloves that look more like oven mitts.
A collection of Life magazines from the 1930s and '40s make it easy for visitors to get lost in the heyday of starlets Lana Turner and Tallulah Bankhead.
One particular rainy Friday, Jean Karr, perusing Black Cat Antiques with her husband, paused to examine a row of milk bottles - objects of no specific use to her except that they're old and they bring her back to a time when these glass containers were delivered with a clink on her doorstep.
"I just like browsing," Karr said. "I don't come thinking I have to go Christmas shopping. . . I can go home with nothing and feel satisfied." -------------------------------
If you go:
Got a thing for dusty attic treasures? Here are some places in Snohomish that might satisfy your nostalgic impulse.
Black Cat Antique Malls - Two locations: 923 First St. and 1019 First St., open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 360-568-8144 and 360-568-8145.
Brass Lamp Antiques - 901 1/2 First St., open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. 360-568-1614.
Kitty Jean's at River City Antiques - 1007 First St., open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 360-568-1155.
Christmas Parlor Tour of historic homes decorated in holiday finery with trolley rides between sites is Dec. 13 in the town of Snohomish. 360-568-5235.
Remember When Antique Mall - 908 1/2 First St., open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 360-568-0757.
Snohomish Antique Gallery - 117 Glen Ave., open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. 360-568-7644.
Star Center Antique Mall - 829 Second St., open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. 360-568-2131.
-- Antique shops aren't the only attraction drawing visitors to Snohomish. Riverside restaurants, bookstores and specialty shops offering items from fabrics to pies and sweets also line the streets of the historical district. Visitors can also take a walk through the town's 139-year history, viewing more than 70 Victorian and early 20th-century homes.
Some places for fine dining or down-home chow:
Collector's Choice Restaurant - Second Street and Glen Avenue in the Star Center Mall; 360-568-1277.
Fred's Rivertown Alehouse - 1114 First St.; 360-568-5820.
Mardini's - 101 Union Ave.; 360-568-8080.
Oxford Saloon and Eatery - 913 First St.; 360-568-3845.
Rivers Edge Cafe - 1011 First St.; 360-568-5835.
Snohomish Valley Ice Cream & Candy Co. - 902 First St.; 360-568-1133.
-- Guide maps for walking tours of the historical district are available at the Chamber of Commerce at 127 Avenue "A" in the Firehouse Center; 360-568-2526.
-- To get there, take Interstate 405 to Highway 522 east, heading toward Woodinville. Just north of Woodinville, exit to Highway 9 and follow it north. After crossing the Snohomish River, take the Snohomish exit to Second Street and go east into town.