Looking for unusual holiday decorations, the perfect gift for the person with everything, or a one-of-a-kind toy for a grandchild? Instead of heading to the crowded mall, consider a trip to an antiques shop.
Buying collectibles and antiques is a way of “green’ shopping, or recycling and reusing goods from yesteryear. It’s great fun to poke around in a shop as you never know what hidden treasure you’ll discover: a piece of jewelry, wacky knick-knack, vintage wooden toy, or a pretty crystal bowl.
And, there is always the remote possibility of having an Antiques Roadshow experience when that $5 vase turns out to be worth $5,000.
Two area towns with clusters of antique shops can turn the dreaded holiday shopping trip into a fun adventure.
Located about a half-hour drive south of Portland on Highway 99E, Aurora is a village filled with history and antiques.
The town dates back to 1856 when German settlers led by Dr. Wilhelm Keil arrived by way of the Oregon Trail. They established Oregon’s first commune, combining Christian principles and communal ownership, and operated with much success.
Known throughout the state for their brass band, orchards, textiles, furniture and hearty German food, the commune lasted until after Keil’s death in 1877.
Today, the town is designated as a National Historic District and contains numerous original buildings.
Several magazines and websites have included Aurora in their lists of the country’s best antiquing towns. It’s 23 shops with over 300 dealers are mostly located in the town’s compact, five-block center, and many occupy historic houses or commercial buildings.
Be sure to check out Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage where you will find everything from glass door knobs to claw bath tubs.
After some serious shopping, you may want to visit the Old Aurora Colony Museum to learn more about this fascinating bit of Oregon history, sample some wine at the Pheasant Run Winery on Main Street, grab a sandwich at the White Rabbit Bakery, or treat yourself to some goodies at the Pacific Hazelnut Candy Factory south of town.
Located halfway between Portland and Seattle, is the town of Centralia, Washington, another great antiquing destination. When it comes to shopping, Centralia is best known for its extensive outlet mall located on both sides of Interstate-5, however don’t be distracted by the lure of Ralph Lauren and Under Armour.
Instead, head east about a mile to the historic downtown center. Here, along Tower Avenue, you’ll find a dozen antique shops and attractive commercial buildings, including the 1930s Fox Theater, Farmers Merchant Bank, Amtrak station, and Olympic Club Hotel.
The hotel and its adjacent pub/restaurant are projects of the McMenamin brothers, known throughout the Northwest for their restoration of historic properties. Be sure to take a peek inside the pub to admire the gorgeous wood, beveled glass, and Tiffany-style lamps.
A few blocks from Tower Avenue is the Elks Lodge, built in 1920, and now repurposed as the Centralia Square Antique Mall complex. Here you will find five specialized antique shops, 135 dealers, and the Berry Fields Café, where you can recover from bric-a-brac fatigue.
To transform the trip to Centralia into a true adventure, consider ditching the drive on busy I-5 and take the Amtrak Cascades train. A northbound, morning train departs Portland at 8:20 a.m. and arrives in Centralia at 9:50 a.m., leaving plenty of time for shopping and lunch before catching the 3:50 p.m. train back to Portland. The train also services Eugene, Salem and Vancouver; schedules and ticketing information are available at amtrak.com.
With over 160 years of European settlement and hundreds of thousands of grandma’s attics, it is not surprising that nearly every town in western Oregon and Washington has a few antique shops. Save yourself from the dreaded holiday shopping by exploring gifts from the past. You’ll never know what treasures you’ll find.