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By Janelle Eckardt
October 1, 2008 (La Mesa) --  When considering a place and/or attraction in the East County to highlight from my perspective as a 20-something woman in a wheelchair, La Mesa’s long row of antique shops didn’t immediately rank high on my list. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the fine crafts of generations past–I was raised in a household of jukeboxes, ice boxes, and radios the size of large robots–But after years of watching “The Antique Road Show” with my mother, I’m ashamed to say it is still beyond me to tell the difference between a hand-carved wooden horse from the nineteenth century and one carved in a middle school class by a kid with an acne problem.  So I decided to roll outside my comfort zone and head off on a modern day treasure hunt.

After all, who knew? One trip to the right antique shop, and I could potentially end up sitting on a lock of Lincoln’s hair, or a bar napkin scribbled with unpublished Beatles’ lyrics… A girl can dream, can’t she? 

I visited three antique shops this particular day, and all three are worth noting.

Antiques @ the Village (8366 La Mesa Blvd.) has a significant collection of china and Asian wares; perhaps most notable is the grand display of antique jewelry at the front counter. Glass beads of all shapes and sizes reveal their age in their quirky colors and combinations. Peach, teal, and violet show respectably among diamond broaches and silver hair pins. Oh, how I’d love to play dress-up on a grand scale with the bracelets fit for flappers and wildly entertaining grandmothers. Yes, much of this jewelry is obviously vintage–often oversized and fabulously flamboyant–but let me remind you that vintage is “in”. Any little black dress would be proud to be accompanied by a truly original piece of jewelry with a story of its own.  If you’re having reservations about committing to that silver bracelet with the turquoise flower burst, Larry is the perfect person to act as store moderator and shopping cheerleader. He is personable, accommodating, and a true salesman.

The shop has a wheelchair-accessible entryway, and is moderately easy to navigate. The aisles seem to shrink the farther you go in the store, but I have no doubt Larry would be willing to rearrange any furniture necessary.

Antique Alley (8320 La Mesa Blvd.) is most impressive for its rich collection of antique and estate furniture. Mahogany chairs with shapely legs and intricate carvings around the feet hint at times when grandeur was not something to snub one’s nose at. If old jewelry brought out the child in me, then one particular chaise lounge excited cliché feminine whims I’ve seldom humored. Its plush upholstery and sleek varnished frame were worthy of supporting the likes of Cary Grant and Jackie O; and while I dreamed of draping leisurely over it in some flowing gown, it is more likely that my dusty book collection would be the only thing enjoying the cushion.

If you fancy the detailed woodwork of antique chairs but are not so keen on the dated upholstery, I suggest having the seat recovered with a material that suites your décor. As with mix-and-matching vintage jewelry with your wardrobe, a few old-world touches add complexity and perspective to any room. If retaining that old-world monetary value is what you’re going for, however, it might be best to suck it up and learn to love the gold paisley print adorning your leprechaun green velvet love seat.

Antique Alley also has an accessible entrance, but the narrow aisles only allow a patron in a wheelchair to go about halfway back in the store. Turning room is limited as well, so I recommend asking for assistance if the space gets too tight.

The third shopping experience is worth mentioning; though for the sake of discretion, I’ll avoid naming the establishment or proprietor. I’d like to say this shop has stuck in my memory for of the truly unique niche it’s found for itself in the antique market; but unfortunately, my visit was tarnished by the strange and rather offensive remarks of the store’s owner. Mid-day pleasantries exchanged, I was then blindsided by this question:

“I’m sorry, but for legal reasons I have to ask. You don’t work for Mr. Pinnock, do you?”

Mr. Pinnock, who? The owner explained that Mr. Pinnock, Theodore Pinnock, is a disability advocate lawyer who “goes around to small businesses and sues if they’re not handicap-accessible...” After going on about how Mr. Pinnock recently victimized the store owners of Julian with frivolous lawsuits, the owner was quick to note that “I (the shop owner) like handicapped people. In fact, I even have a couple handicapped friends.”

“Okay,” I thought, “What year is this, and where am I?” In an attempt to calm my own fuming skull, I asked, “Do you ask all disabled patrons if they plan to sue you?” For which he replied to my accompanying nurse–he failed to make eye-contact with me the entire time–“No, no, I just need to know so I can be more accommodating.”

Before my visit to this shop, I’d never heard of Theodore Pinnock. But now I know exactly who he is, and the work he does. It would be rash of me to write the shop owner’s remarks off as purely discriminatory and malicious. Mr. Pinnock’s legal tactics and true motivation for working on the behalf of the disabled community have raised many doubts and fears in the hearts of business owners nation-wide. Issues surrounding his code of ethics, or lack thereof as some might suggest, deserve a proper platform of discussion. I was only hoping that platform wouldn’t corner me in a dusty shop, and in serious need of coffee. 

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my day treasure hunting on La Mesa Blvd. I’ll continue to keep an eye out for that one piece of history that’s bound to make history for me.  But until then, it might be best to simply enjoy the scent of aged wood and perfumed memories that line every inch of every shop … some home-made fudge might not hurt, too.

*Ironically, the store I mention is fully accessible, with relatively large aisles and plenty of spaces to turn. It was by far the easiest shop to navigate through all day.

Janelle Eckardt graduated last year from UCSD with a B.A. in English literature. She is currently feeling out her place in “the real world,” while simultaneously devising a formula for Guinness-flavored lip gloss. Janelle is a native of this most beautiful of counties, and is absolutely bent on showing it off to the world: bumpy sidewalks and all. And if she knows anything, it is this: bucket lists are for procrastinators–live as though you are … living.