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A passion for local history

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New antique shop opens in Bedford

By John Barnhart

    A love of local history led Karla Powell to open American Vintage, a new antique shop, in Bedford. The new shop, located on East Main Street in the space formerly occupied by the Bedford Barbershop, first opened its doors in December.

    “We specialize in advertising signs,” she said.
    The store is filled with advertising signs, some nearly 100 years old. It also contains a wide variety of other promotional material, including working outdoor thermometers.
    She first got interested in antiques when she found a Bonanza lunch box. Bonanza was a Western TV series popular back in the 1960s, long before Powell, a 2002 Liberty High School grad, was even born. She eventually acquired more items and also learned about antique collectors.
    When Powell acquires old advertising signs and promotional material, she researches the company and is fascinated by the things she discovers. She pointed to an old Esso service station sign in the shop.
    “At one time it was the only company that would sell to people of color,” she said.
    Sometimes people bring her items that they want to sell, but most of the time she and her husband, Harley, find items by driving down country roads.
    “We knock on the door and try to talk somebody into selling something,” she said.
    Sharp eyes help in this endeavor. She has one sign emblazoned with “V. F. Whitmire Groc.” She spotted this sign on a barn on one of her expeditions. It was being used as siding on a barn and it had been nailed on so that the back, not the part with the lettering, was facing outward. She spotted it and thought it looked like a sign, so she and her husband stopped and talked to the property owner.
    “I asked him to take it down,” she said.
    Along with antique advertising, she stocks her shop with anything dealing with American history. She also looks for anything unusual.
    “We are actually restoring a gas pump now,” she said.
    Many items, however, are left as they are. She has a 1904 Keystone fire extinguisher. It’s a brass soda/acid type. This type uses baking soda reacting with a mild acid to generate the pressure to expel the extinguisher’s water. You turn it upside down to activate it.
    “I didn’t clean it up,” said Powell. The brass retains the patina that it has acquired over the past century.
    There are also items that still work. One is a 1910 Frankins sewing machine. It’s powered by a foot pedal and is in its original table. All it needs is a belt.
    Along with items she displays, Powell can work with customers who are looking for something in particular. She takes the customer’s name and looks for that particular item.
    Powell chose her location due to its history. It’s a 19th century building and Powell said that it appears in photos dating back to 1905. The barber shop had been there for years and she kept the mirrors and sinks in place. The sinks have been repainted and covered with counter tops so they can be used to display items.
    She also has a straight razor that belonged to a barber who worked there for years. It’s on display, but it’s not for sale.
    “I feel it’s part of the place,” she said. “I can’t sell it. It’s here to stay.”
    Powell is an entrepreneur and can’t imagine not being in business for herself.
    “I like to be in charge of what I’m doing every day,” she said.
    The shop is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Powell said that this schedule works well with a second business that she and her husband operate together. They own and operate On the Spot Movers which sets up modular homes.
    The antique shop is her fun business and dovetails with her passion for history.
    American Vintage has a Facebook profile and Powell said she posts something new nearly every day.
    “People who like me on Facebook can save 10 percent on their next purchase,” she said.
    Powell can be reached at (540) 330-9488.