Vintage retail thrives with best kept secrets in Calistoga | Business

There’s something about the first block of Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga that has attracted three side-by-side shops, each with distinctive vintage genres and owners with complimentary business philosophies.

Vintage Treehouse owner Valerie Ratto is the newest kid on the block, whose store replaced Lincoln Street Market in April. Her shop sits at 1117B Lincoln Ave., between Calistoga Country Antiques and Rags to Riches.

The store is filled with shabby chic kitchen arrangements including tables, chairs, cabinets, dishes and glassware, and other home décor like dressers and pillows. It also carries clothing and jewelry.

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Ratto describes herself as a collector and a shopper, and Vintage Treehouse as “a high-end thrift store. “I really have a little of everything, but not high-end antiques like next door (at Calistoga Country Antiques)” she said. “My store is rustic, farmhouse, fun and eclectic.”

Ratto said customers are both visitors and locals and prices in the store are “very affordable. It’s what Calistoga needs.”

And business is brisk, she adds. Customers have bought entire kitchen arrangements, and her front window displays have been bought out three times since opening, twice during the Fourth of July week.

One customer described the store as “A charm bracelet with meaning.”

“Everybody is digging the vibe here,” Ratto said.

Ratto moved to Calistoga from the Pleasanton and Martinez area 2-1/2 years ago, to “kind of retire” after running her own business organizing and decluttering homes, garages and offices, which she did for 40 years.

Ratto operates Vintage Treehouse with about seven other vendors, mostly local, who rent out sections of the store. This lends the space to a wide variety of items in different styles. She also takes items on consignment.

Calistoga Country Antiques

Vintage Treehouse and Calistoga Country Antiques share a quaint, cobblestone patio with rare mulberry trees and a stone water fountain, where the two neighbors display outdoor furniture and during lulls in business, share updates with each other.

Patricia Samoun moved her antiques store to Lincoln Avenue from Petaluma about five years ago. She is a curator of fine antiques, specializing in French country décor.

She travels to France bringing back furniture like armoires, settees, writing desks, and home accessories. She completes the inventory with items like champagne glasses and copper pots, and also has a $5 bin of vintage goodies.

A favorite with Samoun and her customers are items made with French toile, a familiar French country material usually patterned in blue or light red. Samoun’s shop currently has several items made from the fabric including a room screen and a day bed.

Samoun says customers come from all over, she also ships and will deliver locally. Items in her store are in demand for the staging of real estate photo shoots, and in the past she has rented displays to retailers like Pottery Barn.

On the other side of Vintage Treehouse, Rags to Riches owner Gary Himelfarb welcomes customers into his store where “you’ll find things you’d never see anywhere else,” he said, pointing out an original 1949 Wurlitzer juke box, a decades old wooden pinball machine, and a wall of vintage radios, all in working order. The store’s address is 1125 Lincoln Ave. 

“It takes you back to a time before technology ruled our lives,” he said.

Himelfarb also has the best kept music lover’s secret in town, a room devoted to old vinyl records. Music from Don Williams to Jimmy Hendrix can be found in walnut bins for a nominal price.

A centerpiece in the store is a smallish, stylish ‘juke box’ that plays ‘45s up to 12 hours at a time for continuous music. With the touch of a button, it has with no coin slot because it was designed for medical or other such offices.

The electronic items in the store could be considered museum pieces, like a 1958 Philco black-and-white television and radios from the 1950s.

But music is the at the heart of this vintage store/museum. Himelfarb himself is a legend in certain circles. Also known as Doctor Dread, he is a Reggae music producer, and founder of RAS Records.

In semi-retirement, he enjoys sitting in one of the rocking chairs on the porch of the shop and watching the activity come and go through the gateway of town. He’ll also offer you a bottle of water and invite you to pull up a chair. With messages of ‘love,’ ‘respect,’ and ‘thanks for coming’ hung over the doorways, his laid-back approach is in sync with the relaxed atmosphere of the town. He’s also well-versed in Calistoga’s rich history.

“In the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, you know how Jimmy Stewart loved Bedford Falls? That’s how much I love this town,” he said.

Running the shop is not necessarily about making money, Himelfarb said, but contributing to the “positive vibe” in Calistoga is. Which does not mean he doesn’t know how to run a business.

“You make your store a destination,” he said, also noting that things are priced to sell. He also knows that nobody will but some items on display — like the old phonograph player that records music onto a vinyl disc, much like the one that propelled Elvis to fame and fortune.

Himelfarb was selling antiques and artifacts behind Roam, across the street until about two years ago, when he opened Rags to Riches. He also believes in change and evolution and says in two more years the store will have morphed into something else, possibly involving musical instruments and lessons.

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