SEASIDE — The items stir memories and provoke nostalgia from shoppers, many seeking a piece of their past.
There’s the familiar butter dish, identical to one that graced the kitchen table at each family gathering. There’s the iconic blue Pyrex bowl, the same one grandma used to mix cake batter for every birthday.
In May, Paula Johnson opened At Home on Broadway at 722 Broadway St. in Seaside, where she offers an extensive collection of vintage and contemporary home and fashion wares.
Trading ‘stuff’ to travel
Johnson, from Portland, recently retired to Seaside after working in an engineering department for a computer company in Beaverton and most recently the election division for Multnomah County, for the past 17 years.
Johnson came out of retirement for a couple reasons.
“I traveled with my daughter and grandkids a couple years ago to Europe, Africa and Dubai. We spent a lot of time in Morocco. Those experiences were so important to me. I had so much stuff at home, in storage units and sheds. The expense and inconvenience of it, and just to know that stuff was piling up, just became overwhelming. I would rather travel more and have less stuff. It was time lighten the load and let others enjoy my stuff,” she said.
Pyrex bowls, cups and dishes are among the steadiest selling items, Johnson said.
An entire wall is dedicated to Pyrex glassware of varying colors and designs. Design differences reveal the year it was made and it’s relative rarity, Johnson explained.
“Most people have never seen the black, pink or hot air balloon Pyrex,” Johnson said. “It’s a big deal to me to have it.” A blue Pyrex bowl with a hot air balloon design is the most valuable on the shelf at $150.
Johnson targets different demographics by carrying a mix of vintage housewares in addition to contemporary collections, including lines from Martha Stewart, KitchenAide, Cuisinart, The Sharper Image and Le Creuset.
She stocks her shelves with finer wares she couldn’t find nearby, from plush towels to quality cutlery.
“When I moved here in November, I didn’t think I could find quality linens or knives unless I went back to Portland. If I don’t want to drive back to Portland to get good cutlery, I don’t imagine other locals do either,” she said.
“I thought while opening a store that features vintage and mid-century modern, why not carry things that local residents are in need of and don’t want to drive to Portland to get?”
While she has seen spectrum of collectibles over the years, Johnson still gets requests for things she never knew existed.
“Someone came in the other day looking for keys to old pocket watches,” she said.
In the front of the store, Johnson carries a complete line of contemporary cookware and a corner cabinet of jadeite dishware. Mid-century modern American-made housewares are arranged in the middle of the store including an extensive array of Pyrex bowls, dishes and cups in rare colors and designs. There’s a growing section of international items in the back, including Morrocan chairs and candlesticks from Poland.
“I’ve sold a lot of Boho related items so I’m trying to get more,” Johnson said.
Common housewares hold unique memories
Johnson relishes the joy an item can bring.
“It’s so much fun to let someone find something and be thrilled with it. It may have just been sitting in a storage unit and now it’s made someone’s day or completed their collection,” she said.
One story still resonates.
After a front-page photo published in the Seaside Signal on Memorial Day weekend, the following Monday a customer came to the store in search of something she had spotted in the picture.
“A woman called the moment I opened the door,” Johnson recalled.
“She asked about a certain set of bowls on display. She was here in no time flat and found the bowl. I asked her why she was so interested in that particular set, and it turned out that it was the set that she was raised with; they used the same set on their kitchen table growing up. It had been broken and she looked and looked and looked for years to find them, and here they were. She stood here crying big tears. It was blessing to know that something could make someone so happy.”
There’s a yellow Pyrex bowl that holds special provenance and conjures up a world of memories from her childhood.
“It was our cookie dough, popcorn or our mom’s potato salad bowl. If that bowl came out we knew what it was for,” Johnson said.
A love of fine furniture and antiques runs in the family.
“My mother had a lovely turn-of-the-century home on Mount Tabor, filled with antiques,” Johnson said. “I was raised appreciating quality craftsmanship and beautiful wood design.”
Johnson first started collecting furniture followed by La Mode dishes, then glassware including jadeite and Pyrex.
“I love the treasure hunt,” she said.
Johnson spent years amassing a colossal collection that filled her home and spread into sheds and storage units. But today she’s unloading and eagerly converting her once overflowing collection into a well-curated inventory for others to enjoy.
“I carry pieces that are specific to the collector, that they won’t find anywhere else,” Johnson said. “It’s neat to show people pieces they’ve never seen.”
The most expensive item is a $740 Hoosier cabinet, a type of kitchen cupboard workstation made popular in the early 20th century, before built-in kitchens became more widespread.
Busiest street, beach town
Johnson considered two other potential properties along Broadway St. before determining that 722 Broadway was the ideal location. A grand opening was held May 24.
“I knew I wanted the busiest city and busiest street on the Oregon coast, so I knew it would be Broadway,” she said. The store is located in the Wheatley/Desler Building in the historic Gilbert District.
“All the properties were very spacious and lovely, but when I walked in here I knew this was the place. The architecture and detail is just incredible. I think this particular building invites my stuff in and feels like it belongs here.”
Johnson said business has been “fabulous” so far.
Once a collector, always a collector
Johnson concedes that she hasn’t given up collecting entirely, albeit now on a much smaller scale.
“I have a few things I’m interested in. I don’t know why they appeal to me but they are the vintage wedding cake toppers, vintage cigarette lighters and pie birds,” she said.
Johnson often looks online to add to her collections and find items for others.
“I go to any of my extensive contacts I’ve made over the years, for whatever I or a customer needs,” she said.
“If I don’t have it I can get it immediately. We watch for certain things for each other. I can’t seem to have one of anything.”
Sharing stories about her stuff is among her favorite chapters in her new career.
Johnson has a showcase of family heirlooms and memorabilia that includes a wicker basket, a dirt-stained baseball, and a Jungle Book lunchbox.
“It brings my family close to me,” she said.