New gift shop opens in former JJ Blinkers space in downtown Antioch
After JJ Blinkers, the self-described rubber chicken store in downtown Antioch, closed last November after 35 years, Debbie Winkler decided to double down on her investment in the area.
She had opened the Rustic and Reclaimed Market nearby on Main Street in 2018, offering vintage home furnishings in a "modern farm house" style. But another idea persisted.
"I've always wanted to open a gift shop," she said Friday. And where better than the former Blinkers space, where her kids used to visit, she reasoned.
"It was important for me to open a shop (here) because JJ Blinkers was such a staple in Antioch," Winkler said. "It's my dream shop."
She began renovating the space earlier this year and has regularly been posting updates and pictures of the progress on the businesses' Facebook page.
With Saturday's grand opening looming, preparations continued to the wire Friday and Winkler still had a checklist of tasks. Workers were installing new front windows as Winkler and her staff readied products for the shelves and tended to other details.
"That's my life, though," she laughed. "But it's always worked out."
The opening coincides with the Antioch's Summer Wine Walk. Winkler will have an acoustic band playing and an ice cream truck on hand.
The native of Brazil earned her business degree in Denver and master's in Boca Raton, Florida. She moved to Antioch 18 years ago when her then husband was transferred to Motorola's facility in Libertyville.
She described Vintage Mercantile as an industrial-style gift/apparel/accessories shop with unique, fun and hard-to-find items.
"My focus is to work with small-batch mom-and-pop artisans from around the U.S.," Winkler said. "I have items that are handmade from California to Maine."
Many of the "display cases" are repurposed antiques and collectibles with their own stories. Among them are a turn-of-the-century grain separator, a cabinet long ago used to sort mail in New York, an old container for hardware with 350 bins, and a 12-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall workbench made of barn wood.
"I did keep the JJ Blinkers counter for good luck," she said.
The 1,500-square-foot space was remodeled with new flooring and lighting as well as fresh paint inside and out.
Vintage Mercantile isn't the only downtown business with a fresh look.
What is known as the Klein building has received a facade improvement, and the Vegas Cafe has undergone a restoration. That's returned the historic appearance of two Main Street buildings, according to Michael Garrigan, the village's community development director.
Winkler is leasing the ground floor of what had been separate spaces in the 1910 building with a funeral parlor once occupying the northern half of the building.
Items kept getting lost in the shuffle during the renovation, and Winkler said she heard a story a few weeks ago that may offer an explanation.
"They say there are friendly ghosts here," Winkler said. "I was told things disappear or are moved."