You know it as the Antique Capitol of the Pacific Northwest.
Snohomish, founded in 1859 and bound by the Snohomish and Pilchuck rivers, is a treasure trove of historical buildings, homes and antique shops. Its historic district is listed on both the state and national registers of historic places.
Who does Snohomish have to thank for the tourist-attracting nickname?
John Regan, the original owner of Star Center Antique Mall.
When Regan opened his store in 1982, he felt like Snohomish needed a little something.
To be sure, it wasn’t antiques. He alone had tens of thousands of period pieces in the mall’s five-story building on Second Street.
So he gave it the nickname now synonymous with Snohomish.
“My dad coined it when they were trying to establish an identity,” said Tim Regan, who took over the antique mall with his wife in the late 1990s.
The nickname stuck, and was further reinforced when more antique shops opened downtown.
You won’t find another place in Washington like it. Snohomish is home to more than 350 antique dealers, offering collectibles sold in more than a dozen shops, all located within less than a square mile of each other downtown.
Snohomish is the antique hunter’s equivalent of being a kid in a candy shop.
And just like a candy shop, there’s something for everyone, from circa 1800s French cabinets, 1950s-era porcelain signs and 1920s chandeliers to vinyl records, train sets and mid-century lamps.
Each store sells hundreds to tens of thousands of antiques, many of which have value for their aesthetic or historical significance. With so many items to look at, it can be overwhelming.
But antiquers agree that it’s that hunt for the perfect item that makes it fun.
“You never know where you’re going to find them,” said Kimberly McIlrath, owner of Faded Elegance on First Street, which also sells home and garden decor, and boutique and vintage items.
You’d think a surplus of antique shops in one city would breed competition. But shop owners here say that’s not the case.
“We all know each other and try to work together,” McIlrath said. “We have a good community.”
McIlrath, 48, grew up in Snohomish. When she was a little girl, her family would take her antique shopping — though that was before Snohomish was known as an antiquer’s mecca.
Today, antique shops are among the biggest draws for the city of about 10,000 residents. The city estimates that hundreds of thousands of tourists visit every year, including many from overseas.
“We have people who find us on Instagram from all over,” McIlrath said. “A lot of people come here because we’re known as the antique capitol. It’s been that way forever.”
The customers themselves are a mixed bag: antique hunters, collectors, tourists, locals.
Some know exactly what they’re looking for, while others just like to peruse the aisles.
“People can come in and spend the day and just a see a wide variety of cool stuff,” said Steve Gurney, owner of Antique Station In Victoria Village on First Street. “If that turns them into an antique buyer, great. If not, I’m just happy they had a good day.”
Gurney, 60, opened his two-story shop in 1994 in the former Snohomish hardware store, built in 1905. Antiques in his store range in price from $1 to $10,000, though most items are $100 or less.
Gurney’s most expensive item is a 1800s China display with inlaid wood and triple curved glass made by a designer famous for building furniture for Queen Victoria.
“It’s beautiful,” Gurney said. “My wife says I’m going to be buried in it.”
Star Center Antique Mall is the largest antiques seller in town. It’s housed in a 1928 building that was once an armory for the American Legion.
More than 200 dealers sell glass art, vintage toys, estate jewelry and antique collectibles at the mall. It also is home to the largest antique-reference bookstore in the Pacific Northwest, with more than 10,000 books on its shelves.
“We’re really one of those places that you can ask for anything under the sun,” owner Tim Regan said.
McIlrath of Faded Elegance travels all over the world to find her antiques.
“I love European flair,” she said.
Some of her most treasured items are from France. She sells French linen, chairs, mirrors and cabinets. She also frequently sells demijohns, which are old French wine bottles covered in wicker.
During an antique hunting trip in San Francisco, she found French-style sofas with carved gold legs — called settees — made for a 1920s movie set.
“I brought them home and posted them in the front window,” McIlrath said. “I thought no one would ever buy them. Somebody bought them that same day.”
In addition to her French collection, McIlrath also has one-of-a-kind items such as an antique farm table made of old barn wood, vintage cocktail ware and English ironstone tableware.
“I love to see the customers’ reactions,” she said.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that over the years, they’ve decorated their house with items from the store, so it feels like my home, too.
“It’s a special feeling.”
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.
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