Unique antiques: Something for everyone at ‘The Barn of Curiosity’

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

Owner of the vintage bike shop and curiosity store located on M-139, Jim Baney loves to restore older bicycles like this one. He is also happy to repair flat tires. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Owner of the vintage bike shop and curiosity store located on M-139, Jim Baney loves to restore older bicycles like this one. He is also happy to repair flat tires. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

BERRIEN SPRINGS — If you’ve driven M-139 between St. Joseph and Berrien Springs, it’s highly likely that you’ve noticed the little red barn on the west side of the road. Located in the stretch of road that was once a part of the community called “Buckhorn,” the address is now 6656 S. M-139, Berrien Springs.

“I remember places like this when I was on vacation with my parents in Florida, just on the side of the road,” owner Jim Baney said. “I want to be the old man on the side of the road that fixes flat tires.”

Chances are, you’ll remember seeing Baney’s place, too. Although it’s just a little barn, it’s hard to miss it with the way that Baney has it decorated.

Among a host of vintage bicycles set out in the front yard, a yellow 1970s chopper-style bicycle outfitted with a rotary lawnmower blade stands out.

“That’s the redneck lawnmower,” Baney explained. “This is like my third one. Most of the guys who buy them get them for their friends who have a lawn service. They buy them for them as a gag. They’re yard art.”

Besides all of the bicycles, you might see a bikini-clad mannequin climbing a ladder to the barn’s roof today. Tomorrow, who knows what will be out there?

For the past three years or so, Jim’s Vintage Bicycles has captivated passing motorists with the yard art and vintage bicycles that he has set out front. However, recognizing that the store offers so much more than vintage bikes, Jim is in the process of re-naming the shop “The Barn of Curiosity.”

Among the many items that will fascinate visitors are the 1970s skateboards Baney has collected.

“I collect skateboards, specifically the Z Boys—Jay, Tony, and Stacey,” Baney explained, referring to a group of skateboarders who were very influential in popularizing the sport.

Visitors might also notice the collection of old cigarette packages and the replicas of old gas station pumps that Baney fashions out of antique metal kitchen cabinets. He even has a collection of old cane poles and a dressmaker’s mannequin from 1909. Another oddity is the “Jim Dandy,” a 1960s peddle cart with a surrey top.

The main thing, though, is the collection of vintage bicycles that Jim has amassed over the years, including antique tricycles that date back more than 100 years. He also has four tandem bikes that he is in the process of restoring.

“Everybody’s got to have a hobby,” Baney explained. “I used to do mini bikes and stuff like that, but there’s no money in it. I knew a friend who collected bikes, and once I went to a show, I was bitten.”

Before that, Jim worked in a variety of settings.

“I’ve worked at a veterinary clinic. I’ve driven delivery trucks. Manual labor took its toll on me, being a small person,” Baney said. “I’m just looking to survive, not get wealthy or get rich.”

The opportunity to buy the shop came as part of an early inheritance from his mother and stepfather. His mechanical bent was passed down to him by his stepfather as well.

“My stepfather, Harry Peznick, has been a great person in my life since the early 1970s. He used to be an engineer at Whirlpool,” Baney said. “He’s a perfectionist, and I just kind of learned some tricks from him. I like to be a hands-on person.”

While Baney doesn’t buy new bikes, he’s certainly willing to take modern styles in trade for the vintage bikes he sells.

“I don’t buy new bikes, but I will work on them,” Baney said. “People can also trade them in and trade up for any of the bikes I have here.”

Brands include Schwinn, Columbia and Western Flyer, as well as many others.

Baney is also always in the market for a variety of other types of items to add to his collections in case folks have unusual items they are ready to part with. He can be reached at (269) 408-0430 by those who have questions.

“I’m generally interested in ‘man cave’ stuff—things from the past, from the 1970s on back. Things that aren’t here anymore, but they were cool,” Baney explained. “Stuff that brings back memories.”

Visiting Baney’s shop will certainly bring back some memories for anyone who lived through the 1970s and earlier decades, and Baney is happy to answer questions about his merchandise for those who didn’t live through those eras.

“You can’t just walk in and spend five minutes,” Baney said. “You could spend five minutes in just one spot, just looking around, there’s so much stuff.”

Although his emphasis continues to be on the past, Baney has big plans for the future of The Barn of Curiosity.

“Once I change the name of the business, I’ll have a donation jar here, and I’ll eventually turn it into an amusement park kind of thing,” Baney said.

Although the shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday throughout the spring and summer, one event that will surely draw a crowd is Baney’s Father’s Day weekend swap meet.

“Father’s Day weekend is our annual swap meet. There’ll be free camping out here. We have a caboose food cart here that sets up for food, a bon fire, live music. We’ll set up a stage,” Baney said. “It’s a good time here on Father’s Day weekend!”