Old things new again at Wilmette’s Heritage Trail Mall
Heritage Trail Mall co-owner Joan Carlson holds a vintage board game. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times
What: Heritage Trail Mall
Where: 410 Ridge Road
Specialties: Antiques, collectibles and furniture from various eras
Updated: July 22, 2012 6:02AM
Joan Carlson, owner of the Heritage Trail Mall in Wilmette, describes her antique and resale store’s friendly community atmosphere as a place where everybody knows your name.
“It’s like Cheers but without drinks,” Carlson explains.
She and her husband Jerry have come to know residents and watched many local children grow up in the 19 years since they have opened. After retiring from a job in the federal government, Carlson decided to explore her passion of antiques. What started as a hobby quickly became a full-fledged storefront in downtown Wilmette. With the help of their son and two daughters, the Carlsons have expanded their specialty business to include several rooms full of vintage merchandise from jewelry to furniture and home accessories.
With distinctive goods ranging in price from a dollar to a snuff bottle worth $3,000, Heritage Trail Mall is a wealth of historical wares. From people shopping for special graduation gifts to humorous presents for big celebrations such as a 50th birthday, the store hosts a wide customer range. Local restaurant decorators and interior designers come in looking for authentic accessories, while local students working on school history projects also stop by in search of items.
In fact, interior designer Nate Berkus of Oprah Winfrey Show fame has been known to stop by to purchase specialty items. The store has also hosted movie set designers filming locally and in need of historical props. “Such experts are always speedy shoppers. They know the business and what they want,” Carlson said.
The store rents space to 70 different dealers, but is not exclusive to antiques.
While much of their merchandise is historically significant, “There is no ‘antique’ reference in our name. We have an eclectic variety of items,” Carlson said.
Framed vintage childhood board games have taken off in popularity as home accessories, she noted.
The store’s featured items also change with the seasons. During the fall months, back-to-school organizers are in high demand, while entertaining accessories gain popularity during the holidays. In the early summer, Ravinia-goers come hunting for old table linens for sitting on the lawn.
There’s a learning curve associated with the resale business, Carlson said, and a dealer must be savvy finding and buying pieces from rummage sales, estate sales, and private auctions. A fair amount of historical research and competition between dealers is also common.
Since the economic downturn, baby boomer donations have increased, so the value of family heirloom pieces has decreased in the antique market. “The younger generation does not seem as interested in the field,” she said .
Yet the Heritage Trail Mall continues to offer quality pieces with original stories behind them that bring customers back. “It is the personal relationships with customers and their families that I enjoy the most,” Carlson said.