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Popularity of antiquing brings big business to Islander Trading Post

By Staff | Jul 20, 2010

Bob Averill, who has owned the Islander Treading Post since 1988, is pictured with several antique Japanese glass fishing floats, which date back to the 1930's. His store specializes in nautical decorative items.

Antiquing has been one of the most popular hobbies enjoyed by millions of Americans for several decades. People have been collecting rare or unusual artifacts for generations, with some families passing down priceless heirlooms of varying age and quality; others have joined the hobby simply to own a piece of the past, which evoke special memories of days gone by.

A perfect past time for both young and old, antiquing has only become more and more popular over the past few decades. Folks looking to replace a long-lost childhood toy, kids who grew up saving bottle caps and baseball cards or home decorators hoping to find a quirky or unusual piece of vintage "kitsch" all count themselves among the legion of antique hunters.

In recent years, television shows like "Antiques Roadshow" and "American Pickers" have intrigued legions of modern day collectors to rummage through their attics, closets and basements, or travel to antique fairs and estate sales in search of some value priced — as well as priceless — goods of all shape, size and variety.

Here on Sanibel, that place is the Islander Trading Post.

And while you might not find an ultra-rare, turn-of-the-century Coca-Cola sign priced for only pennies. you will discover some things you may not have seen in quite a while. Or ever before.

Georgene Emery holds up one of the replica signs sold at the shop.

"WE started out as a candle and gift shop," said owner Bob Averill, who purchased the Islander Trading Post 22 years ago. "In the 1990s, it sort of  went through an evolution to the antique business."

According to Averill, the store began specializing in "old country store" antiques, including vintage advertising signs and displays. But before long, he added, "we were selling something for everyone."

Among the best-selling items offered at the Post includes antique books, toys, nautical items, cameras and film equipment, pharmacy and automobile items, costume jewelry, tobacco and beer memorabilia, license plates and old Florida souvenirs.

"We used to do a lot of the big shows and conventions all over the country, buying and selling antiques," said Averill. "But now we’re just here at the store. But we still buy items at shows and estate sales. We have to replenish our inventory."

Walking through the Islander Trading Post is like stepping into a time machine. The store is organized neatly, with every category of collectible sectioned off in a well-planned maze. On your left, an assortment of vintage sports memorabilia. A few steps to your right, bookshelves filled from floor to ceiling with kitchen wares and colorfully decorated tins, which were once filled with everything from cookies to coffee.

A metal lunchbox from the TV series "Welcome Back Kotter," circa 1977.

An entire room is dedicated to beer signs, displays, bottles and the sort. Glasses of all sizes and shapes — from pilsner to shot — are everywhere.

In the back of the store, the walls are covered in both vintage and vintage-style (reproduction) advertising signs, selling everything from the beaches of Captiva to RC Cola and John Deere Tractors.

"We have signs for both pocketbooks," said Georgene Emery, who helps Averill run the business. "Some of the old or rare ones go for $500, and some of the replicas sell for as little as $20."

The best-selling signs feature brand name beverages, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Mountain Dew among the soft drink varieties. Beer and automotive signs are also quite popular in the current market.

Among the more unusual items offered at the Post is a giant, rusted anchor, salvaged from a shipwreck off of Key West.

Some of the most popular collectibles are vintage cameras and film equipment.

"That one comes from a boat that sank back in the 1850s," explained Averill. "Aside from the fact that it survived for over 150 years, it’s pretty rare. It’s only the second anchor like that we’ve ever had in the store."

Averill noted that being an an island, many of his customers come in looking for vintage nautical items. The shop offers everything one might imagine, from fishing nets and buoys to mermaids and various marine life.

"People like to decorate their homes in a nautical theme," he said. "We have a lot of customers who come down from up north. When they find something they like, we can also help them ship it wherever they’d like."

One of the rarest items ever sold at the Post includes an old porcelain soda dispenser, which was quite rare and in pristine condition. That sold for about $3,000.

And what does Averill enjoy most about his business?

This 45 rpm record carrying case dates back to the 1950's.

"I think it’s that every day is different," he said. "Customers come in here every day looking for something. Sometimes they’ll find it, and sometimes I’ll try to help them find it. We take notes and then go out looking for them."

But chances are, if there’s an antique you’ve been looking for, you’ll find it at the Islander Trading Post.