- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

ISOM, Ky. (AP) - Five different antique stores scattered on a four-mile stretch of Route 7 are beginning to attract out-of-town collectors to the Isom area.

Gwen’s Country Attic, Addie’s Treasures, All In One Basket, Foolish Pleasures and Delana’s Little Shoppe make up Route 7 Antique Alley.

“I predict that in about two years it will be a big tourism draw,” said Peggy Caudill, owner of All In One Basket.

Potential customers are more apt to drive two or three hours to browse through old treasures if a cluster of stores is located in one area, said Gwen Rollins, owner of Gwen’s Country Attic.

“They are going to get more variety and know they are going to probably find what they are looking for with five stores,” said Rollins.

The different shops don’t compete against each other. Instead, shop owners help each other.

“If someone comes to my shop and is looking for an iron bed and we don’t have it, I will call other shops to see if they have one,” said Caudill.

Shop owners often post photos of merchandise on a Facebook page called Route 7 Antique Alley. Items sell quickly that way, said Rollins.

A woman from Newport, Va., saw a photo of a Hoosier cabinet on the Facebook page and asked Rollins if she would deliver it to her. Rollins said if the woman is interested in the cabinet, she is willing to drive seven hours and spend a day or two at the beach.

While traveling, collectors search for local antique shops on smart phones and take detours if any shops are nearby. Vacationers from Pennsylvania found Gwen’s County Attic that way.

“They saw we had great prices,” said Rollins.

Crystal Watson, owner of Addie’s Treasures, also has an antique store in Mayking. At Timeless Treasures she asks out-of-town customers to put a pin on a map to show where they live. People traveling through the area or those who have come to Letcher County to visit family or friends have come from various locations including the city of Chicago, the states of California and Idaho and the country of Canada.

Rollins says at least 75 percent of her customer base is made up of residents outside of Letcher County. Of the surrounding areas, Knott, Perry and Pike counties and Wise County in Virginia produce her biggest customers.

Rollins said out-of-town customers help the local economy by spending money at other area establishments.

“When they come here to shop, they eat and do other things,” she said.

All five storeowners find merchandise in various ways including estate sales, yard sales, auctions and farm sales. Some drive long distances in search of great finds.

“It’s a good country feeling when you decorate with all of this,” said Rollins.

Delana Banks has owned Delana’s Little Shoppe for 13 years. She is surprised when people stop by her store and tell her that they didn’t know she had an antique store.

“It has helped me to get on Antique Alley,” said Banks.

In addition to carrying unique antiques, Banks makes and sells baskets, painted gourds, birdhouses and rag rugs.

“I just move from project to project,” said Banks, who has been a basket maker since 1982.

She has been a member of the Pine Mountain Craft Co-Op for 19 years.

Located close to Banks’s business is Libby Smith’s Foolish Pleasures. She, too, is pleased that the shop owners are promoting each other.

Smith retired from teaching at Letcher Elementary School in 2010 and began dabbling in antiques. She rented space at a local vendors’ mall and then decided to open her own shop in a trailer where her band 7 South practices.

Smith enjoys going to estate sales, auctions and yard sales trying to find items.

“That’s the most fun, the hunt as they say,” she said. “I just think it is unusual to find the old goodies. For one thing, we need to preserve our past. Things aren’t made like they used to be.”

All In One Basket is the newest shop on Route 7. Caudill, a fulltime registered nurse, works 10-hour shifts for the Department of Veterans Affairs. On her days off she can be found at her antique shop, which opened May 3.

She is a longtime antique collector who got her start selling items in Rollins’s store. She has two daughters who help in her shop and she wants it to be a family-run business.

Caudill said Antique Alley is a viable concept.

“I think it is a win/win for all of the stores,” said Caudill.

Like Smith and Caudill, Watson started out renting space from a local vendor. Her booth kept expanding so she opened Addie’s Treasures two years ago.

Watson often travels to buy antiques to sell. A few weeks ago she helped tear down a 100-year-old barn in Wise, Va. Some of the lumber will be sold. Lumber will also be used to make household decorations.

She credits her grandfather for her love of antiques.

Gwen’s Country Attic has been in business for three years. Rollins, who has been collecting antiques for 36 years, started her shop in an apartment adjacent to her current location, which is owned by her boyfriend, James Croucher.

“Believe me it has been great,” said Rollins. “It has been fun. You aren’t going to get rich. If you love it, it’s a great business.”

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