Newton antique shop reaches its 10-year anniversary worried about the future – Newton Daily News

Customer interaction helped pass the time at Relics, LLC Antiques, Collectibles and Shtuff, but several guests were trickling in and out just before the lunch hour last Thursday inside the downtown Newton shop. Although only two hours had passed, the staff were starting to feel like they had been there all day.

For the past few months, business has been slow going. January and February are historically the worst months for retail sales. But on this particular day, and a leap day at that, it was the 10-year anniversary of Relics. Sort of. It was the day that owner Laurie Nelson was least celebrating the shop’s birthday.

Relics officially became a decade old on Feb. 16, and at the suggestion of manager Carrie Putz the shop decided to celebrate on the last day of the month. In addition to a 10 percent discount on all store items, the front desk offered free chocolate chip cookies from MOM Creations, a local home-baking operation.

Was it a last-minute effort? To an extent, yes, but that is par the course for a shop like Relics, whose very upbringing was rooted in a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” mentality. Nelson founded the shop with her husband Jerry in much the same way. It all started with their love of purchasing dollar boxes at auctions.

“We’d get what we wanted out of the box, but then we were stuck with this other shtuff,” Nelson said. “We tried selling it at swap meets and flea markets. We tried selling out of my little Army trailer at the house. I had a booth at Pappy’s, and then they closed in December 2013. By February 2014 we were open.”

Again, there wasn’t much planning to open the shop. But every day since then has been an exercise in improvisation for Nelson. She has relied solely upon her instincts to survive the harsh and uncompassionate wilderness of retail. The antique business can be a savage market full of unknowns.

“People always ask me, ‘What sells?’ I couldn’t tell you,” Nelson said. “…You never know what somebody is going to come in and buy. Something that has been sitting there for four years will suddenly sell. Something you thought would sell right away will sit for ages. You can turn an item and it will sell the next day.”

Putz added, “I’ve done that! I found something upstairs on the wall and moved it from where it was and it was sold. I touched three different things one weekend and those three things all went. All I did was move them. Sometimes I have my eye on a piece and I want it, but then I find out we just sold it.”

Looking back on the past 10 years, Nelson is shocked and impressed that Relics has made it this long. She thinks of Relics as a “wants store, not a needs store,” which makes her more grateful that it has managed to stay in business; even during times like these when an unforgiving economy threatens its future.

For reasons like this it was understandable why the staff was not bringing out the balloons, the three-tiered cakes and the bottles of champagne to celebrate the store’s 10th birthday. Then again, Relics has always tried to keep itself humble, which matches its more relaxed shopping atmosphere.

Heck, for years customers were greeted by the most relaxed four-legged staff member on the team, who also served as the business’s mascot. When Mini wasn’t greeting customers with perked ears and a wagging tail (all the while leading them to her treat jar), she was resting near Nelson.

If there is one thing that has changed about Relics all these years, it is the departure of Mini. The good ol’ dog passed away in November 2023, much to the sadness of not only Nelson and staff but the whole community. It was not a change Nelson expected nor wanted, but each day has gotten better.

“I still have people coming in asking, ‘Where’s Mini?’ I still think she’s in the back of my truck whenever I’m going somewhere,” she said. “People really liked her.”

When I met Nelson last week, a small puppy was snuggled in his lap. Her name was Peanut, and her sister Pickles was at home. She intended to bring them both to the shop but felt it would be a disaster trying to watch after two puppies at the same time. In time, Pickles will probably become a shop dog.

So before long customers will have another four-legged friend to visit while shopping for antiques. From what Nelson can tell, Pickles — a Jack Russell and Rat Terrier mix, sometimes called Jack-Rats — has the same friendly demeanor as Mini, which she hopes customers will enjoy.

“I think there’s something missing when Relics is without a dog,” she said.

Although some changes are out of Nelson’s control, he is adamant that some things about Relics have not and could not change over the past 10 years.

“People like the brightness, the clear aisles and the way it’s laid out so it’s not crowded,” Nelson said. “We like making good displays. That’s why we’re rearranging things, but we’re not changing the layout … We also offer fair prices, and we’re friendly.”

While Relics is first and foremost an antiques shop, it is also the place to find a little bit of everything, Putz says. Everything from door handles to hinges, from drawer pulls to casters are available in just one corner of the multi-story shop. Local and almost-local vendors frequently display their goods for consignment.

Finding a nostalgic childhood artifact or an old-timey thingamajig is a frequent occurrence in Relics. It is a place where dormant memories awaken at the sight of an old glassware object that used to stand atop the cabinets in grandpa’s kitchen, or at a set of ornate plates left untouched in grandma’s curio.

“It’s like walking down memory lane in a way,” Putz said. “You see all kinds of different things all the time. I’ve seen a lot of things from my childhood.”

Coupled with a fair bit of seasonal merchandise and pop culture-related items like comic books and toys, the shop is packed to the brim with all kinds of “shtuff.” Three floors of merchandise are packed inside the shop, making it the biggest retailer on the square; staff sometimes feel overwhelmed by its sheer scope.

Even with Varieties — another charming antique shop that Nelson speaks highly of — just north of the square, Relics stands out partly because of its size. In fact, that was the whole reason why the business moved in to the former Pappy’s Antique Mall in 2016. It had grown so much, and its supply was endless.

Nelson and Putz also think they are another reason why Relics stands out from other shops, which in turn has helped it stay in business for so long. Whenever a customer walks through the doors, a staff member hollers from behind the counter, located in the center of the store.

Much like the old and nostalgic merchandise it sells, Relics has not changed too much over the years, but the world around it certainly has. Economy struggles and the boom of online shopping has forced the long-time shop to transition to online sales via eBay this year. So far, it seems to be paying off.

There is clearly some hesitation or doubts over how successful this method will be in the future. Nelson would prefer folks visit the downtown shop in person. But the internet is also proving to be a valuable resource in other ways. Social media influencers, they say, are getting others more interested in antiques.

Which, in turn, is forcing would-be customers to part ways with their computers and smart phones for a moment to visit actual antique shops to search for trendy items. Putz said Relics had a cabinet full of uranium glass, which glows vibrantly radioactive colors. These days, it’s more of a challenge to keep that cabinet full.

“The uranium is selling out like crazy lately,” Putz said. “All the glowing stuff? It’s a craze right now! It’s the oldest Depression glass. It was made during the Great Depression Era. The pinks, the greens, the yellows. We have so many common pieces, but it is the rare ones they are really looking for.”

Seeing what the latest trends customers will gravitate towards or what strange new items show up on a shelf is what keeps the job interesting for Putz.

“I like to see what they get and what we get. There is always something new to look at,” she said. “The strangest thing I found was a shark head. It was just a little thing, but it stunk! It stunk to high heaven! I opened it up and was like, ‘Oh! What is that?!’ That has to be one of the weirdest things I found.”

I was curious. “Did it sell?”

“No. I think they threw it away. It would have been though!”

By yowuj