By Sabrina J. Russo
Step across the threshold of an antique shop and stand amidst the displays, and you might just catch a glimpse of the past in the shimmer of polished silver, in the glint of porcelain china, or in the rustle of the pages of well-loved books. In a place that transports the senses to other times and places, it is easy to forget that you’re not so far from home at all—in fact, you might just be a stone’s throw from I-5, just a 45 minute drive away from Seattle. Mount Vernon is an antique collector’s hidden gem, and no one knows that better than the shop owners who make their living collecting and selling treasures in the heart of Skagit Valley. A perfect destination to keep visitors busy with an afternoon of browsing, there are about a half-dozen antique shops in the four-block area of downtown Mount Vernon alone, making it a perfect destination to stop for the afternoon, grab a cup of coffee, take a quick journey back in time, and leave with a treasure of your own.
Mount Vernon is a historic center of community life in Skagit Valley, and the Red Door Antique Mall is a perfect place to get a sense of the town’s agricultural legacy. The Mall is located in a beautifully rustic old building that once housed a grain and seed store. It now plays host to the carefully curated items of 20 different vendors, arranged in elegant, thematic displays. From the moment visitors step inside, they are transported to a place where every object has a story and a past. Rustic pieces feature prominently here, representing the popular aesthetic antique collectors call “Primitive”. There are little nods to Mount Vernon’s agricultural heritage everywhere, starting at the doorstep, where a rusted wheelbarrow full of blooming flowers welcomes customers.
Peggy Tanner and Charlene Kading, the owners of Red Door, are passionate about connecting people with history – in some cases, the history of their very own family. Customers to the shop to rifle through stacks of old photos and postcards in an attempt to track down living relatives of the people in the images. Peggy and Charlene have over ten years of stories and anecdotes about the customers who found unique connections to their own histories here.
While looking through old postcards. one customer came across a letter penned by a late family member
“When he came up here [to the register], he was white as a ghost and said, “I can’t believe this, it’s a postcard from my grandmother!” said Peggy.
According to Tanner and Kading, “The neatest thing is being able to reconnect people with their families”, and some instances are more memorable than others. Tanner described coming across an intricately detailed a portrait of an elegant woman at an estate sale, and knew she had to buy it. The reason was revealed to her months later.
“We had a family come in and it was [the woman in the portrait’s] brother-in-law’s mother. Something had happened when she passed away, a vindictive relative had gotten rid of everything. And it was really cool because I’d had a lot of people say they’d give me less money and made offers because the frame was really pretty, and I’d said no.” It seems that gut instinct is just as important to buying and collecting antiques as simply liking an artifact.
Just a short stroll down the Riverwalk along the Skagit River is another antiques destination housed in a building full of local history—Old Movie House Antiques. Like the name suggests, this antique shop was once a local cinema, which becomes evident if you follow the shop’s slanted, narrow hallways back into the room that was once the theater auditorium. It’s now a treasure trove of everything from jewelry to larger pieces of furniture. In addition to the historic items for sale, some visitors have history with the space itself. While browsing the collection, customers reminisce on the movies they once saw there, dates they went on, and first kisses up in the balcony. It’s not antique “shopping” as much as it is an experience—a chance to relive old memories and find new ones, too.
For some, antiquing is a treasure hunt. For others, it’s a way to make memories while reminiscing on the past. For Kathy Tellesbo, who owns Dilly Dally Antiques, it’s a chance to keep learning every single day.
“I’m fourth generation here in Mount Vernon, my family goes way back. My kids are fifth and my grandkids are sixth generation. The history of downtown Mount Vernon really piques my interest; I like to read about it”, she said.
As the owner of an antique store, that’s something she gets to do every day as she sifts through the objects her pickers bring back from estate sales. She’s read up on the history of Mount Vernon’s downtown, and local sales sometimes turn up objects with local interest that give her another glimpse into the town’s history. Old pamphlets and advertising signage are rare and popular with collectors, but occasionally, something even more unusual appears. Tellesbo once found an old Loving Cup—a two-handled vessel that is often used as a trophy or award—from decades long ago at the Skagit County Fair. Every item in the shop is a new learning opportunity about another piece of history, and for Kathy and her many curious customers, it’s all part of the fun of antique hunting.
When it comes to finding unusual and unique antiques, there’s nowhere better to start than a place that brings some of the country’s most interesting treasures together. When the place itself is full of history, and is staffed by people with a deep respect and love for learning all about it, you know you’ve struck gold. If you’re curious enough to try your hand at finding a special treasure of your own, set aside some time to browse and take an afternoon or a day to explore (and, of course, take breaks to sample some of the delicious treats on offer at the local eateries!). Each shop has a unique sense of style, but there’s one piece of wisdom they all agree on: If you see something that you love, don’t wait to buy it, because it might not be there when you come back!
Antique Shopping in Downtown Mount Vernon
How to get here:
Take I-5 to the Kincaid Exit #226 and turn right onto WA-536 W/E Kincaid St (signs for Kincaid Street/City Center).
Red Door Antique Mall
111 Freeway Dr, Mt Vernon, WA 98273
Old Movie House Antiques
520 Main St, Mt Vernon, WA 98273
Dilly Dally Antiques
501 S 1st St, Mt Vernon, WA 98273