Downtown antique store features crafts, historic local artifacts

Published 9:04 am Friday, February 14, 2014

Ann Velthouse shows off a glass paperweight in her antique collection. Velthouse is the owner of RUsT, an antique store that opened up downtown last fall.  Leader photo/TED YOAKUM

Ann Velthouse shows off a glass paperweight in her antique collection. Velthouse is the owner of RUsT, an antique store that opened up downtown last fall. Leader photo/TED YOAKUM

While the area history museum houses many of Dowagiac’s precious historical artifacts, local antique dealer Ann Velthouse has spent the last several years quietly amassing her own collection of items that are deeply linked to the city’s past.

Many of these items are on display inside her store, RUsT, located on Front Street. Although she only opened the location a few months ago, the antique store has already developed a devoted following within the city.

On display are a multitude of antiques, ranging from paintings by local artists such as Rose Potter, to wooden furniture salvaged from area homes.

“I buy things that I looking at, the type of items I want to be surrounded by,” Velthouse said.

While some people in her trade prefer wares made of fine china or glass, Velthouse said she is happy uncovering “rusty gold” treasures from estate sales, old garages and other places across Michiana.

“I don’t mind cleaning things up,” Velthouse said. “I don’t mind the dirt.”

Some of her more recent additions contain more than just a sense of rustic charm, but are physical pieces of Dowagiac history.

In one of her store’s display windows sits an old shipping crate from the Stromberg-Carlson, which was presumably used to ship telecommunications equipment to William Heddon’s telephone company, the first phone company located in Dowagiac.

Velthouse said she uncovered the artifact by pure happenstance after purchasing the box at an estate sale. She originally believed it to be a repurposed piece of furniture, as the previous owner had covered up the markings with cushions. When Velthouse and her daughter tried to reupholster the box, they uncovered its true purpose.

Shortly there after, Velthouse purchased an old piece of telephone equipment from a local thrift shop. Its maker: Stromberg-Carlson.

“I find that if I’m patient, I’ll eventually find the missing part,” Velthouse said.

Velthouse is no newcomer to the collection business, as she has been interested in collecting old artifacts since childhood. Over the years, she has owned and operated a number of different antique stores around the area, before a temporary “retirement” in 2005, when she worked as a supervisor of a cleaning company.

However, with RUsT, which stands for “are you seeking treasure” Velthouse and her daughter were unable to find a capital “S” when making the sign — she has stepped back into the trade.

“It’s wonderful being your own boss, to not have the pressures of a 9 to 5 job,” Velthouse said.

Even during the years when she didn’t operate her own business, Velthouse continued to collect old items from people.

“I will pick up things that are reasonably priced, so that I can pass those savings on to customers,” Velthouse said.

“She has a good eye,” said Nancy McDonald, who works at the store. “She knows the value and history of things as soon as she sees them.”

In addition to her skills in resale, Velthouse also has years of experience in crafting. Many of her creations on display in the store are built from materials she salvaged over the years.

While many of the items in the antique shop can be used or displayed in the homes of customers, Velthouse hopes that her antiques will also inspire fellow crafters to create beautiful pieces of their own, she said.

“People can be really creative if they let their minds go,” Velthouse said.