There are now about a dozen dealers in the former plywood warehouse on Mill Street at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue, selling old clothes and hats, back issues of no-longer-published magazines, faded bird art, grain shovels, hand pumps, Hawaiian shirts and old radios, crockery and cookware, bank calendars and wig stands, as well as outdated entertainment media such as VHS, DVDs and records—the kind that go on a turntable and play music.
Mill Street Antiques has been in business in the same location for about 30 years. But at the end of January, its doors will close for the last time. Collectible hunters—who have long visited Healdsburg for a succession of obscure yet rewarding dealers—will have to go a little farther up Highway 101 to Cloverdale, where Liz Frigerio and Terri McFerrin will reopen the business on March 1.
Leaving Healdsburg was not something that either of the current managers wanted to do. But every time their lease came up for renewal, the terms were more expensive, said Frigerio. “So that’s my main complaint with Healdsburg in general. There’s no compassion for locals keeping us here… You watch businesses go in and out quickly on Healdsburg Avenue because the rents are too high for a small business,” she continued.
Steve Humphrey, whose father, Wayne Humphrey, developed the property in 1977, has a somewhat different perspective. “We have had a wonderful relationship with the antique store,” he told the Tribune via email.
“It’s a very bittersweet separation but another tenant, whose business model aligns with our long term hopes for the property, has expressed desire for that spot for a few years now. With the antique store’s lease expiring we decided it was time for a change,” he continued.
Antique stores have the character of being themselves antiques, long-standing repositories of hidden values and plentiful variety. But Mill Street Antiques was started only 30 years ago, when Warren Davis—then owner of Vintage Antiques in the 300 block of Healdsburg Avenue—leased the building from Wayne Humphry.
It was the senior Humphrey who had built the big wood warehouses on the lot in about 1978, after purchasing the property from the Hollingsworth family. At the time, the Hollingsworth family home was on the lot; that house is now the Parish Café.
Another building on the lot was a roadside restaurant called the Heidelberg, and later El Azteca; it’s now known as Elephant in the Room. A disused Texaco station held down the corner of Mill and Healdsburg for far too long; it was finally taken down to make room for the roundabout.
But most of the buildings on the lot were built by Humphrey in the 1970s as a plywood warehouse and hardware store, and a shipping container manufacturing facility. “In 1985, we closed the plywood and lumber yard, and the manufacturing business was sold to a company called Pacific Container which operated there until they went out of business in 1991,” the younger Humphrey said.
That’s when Davis stepped in to take over the Pacific Container spot in the early 1990s, recreating his antique collective model in a larger location—a bit away from 300 Healdsburg Ave., which was already beginning to be a coveted address, hence pricey.
Restless, Davis then purchased the old stone American Trust building on the corner of Western and Petaluma Boulevard, turning it into Vintage Bank Antiques. He became a local fixture as well, treasured by the community of yard-sale pickers, bargain hunters and historic sleuths who inhabit the antiquarian trades. He died in 2018 at the age of 68.
“That’s the only way you can leave this business,” said one of his former dealers from Vintage Bank.
Back in Healdsburg, Liz Frigerio and a series of partners managed Mill Street Antiques, as they do now. It was formerly a much larger emporium, taking up nearly 15,000 square feet in the former plywood warehouse. This was cut in half a few years ago, as the rents kept creeping up. But it’s not the kind of business that can sustain annual rent increases.
Still the antiques trade continues to fascinate. Trends come and go, much as they do in fashion. Arts and Crafts antiques aren’t as sought-after as they used to be—but neither is Mid-Century Modern, the hot trend of not long ago.
“You know what everyone wants these days, don’t you?” asked Frigerio, with a slight smile. “LPs. Vinyl records.” The 70ish antiques dealer shakes her head as if in disbelief.
“Obviously, we don’t do it for money,” said Frigerio.”It’s the love of the business… I learn something every day, either from a customer or another dealer doing research on something. That’s what makes it fun.”
Late last year, the owner, Steve Humphrey, told them he had another prospective tenant. So Frigerio and McFerrin started looking in earnest for a new place to run an old business.
They found an empty storefront in Cloverdale, next to the Ace Hardware store on the south end of town. The space is 4,400 square feet, which is a substantial downsize from the 7,500 square footage they have now. But the move comes with a lot of unknowns. Although it is farther north, there are those who think that’s a good thing.
“Even when I talk to customers who come in and have only been here five years, they talk about how the city has changed. It used to feel real small-town; now it’s catering totally to the rich in San Francisco,” said Frigerio. “I don’t mean to be negative, but I’m looking for a house in Cloverdale.”
Mill Street Antiques will open at 790 S. Cloverdale Blvd. on March 1. It will keep the name and the same hours it has had for 30 years—open 10am to 5pm every day of the year, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.