It's not just stuff.
Our collections are a statement we're making about ourselves; a means of saying, "I was here!" when we leave them behind. Our great piles of things — carnival chalk figurines, vintage Star Wars dolls, carefully shined and inventoried war medallions — are a legacy of sorts. We're not weirdos, we collectors. We're folks who appreciate the better, smaller things in life. Often in abundance, and still in the original packaging, if at all possible.
We're in fine company. As you'll see in these pages, collectors are more than just people stacking up great piles of things. We're a generous bunch who — like the gallerists and shopkeepers profiled here — like to share our collections, by displaying them in museums and by parsing them out to others in stores that look like miniature art galleries. Or in bars, where a saloonkeeper who's obsessed with collecting beers of the world does so in order that we might enjoy drinking them.
So raise a glass to collectors, those folks who gather together things that we and they can enjoy, and whose shops and museums and restaurants and swap meets keep other collectors happy with the opportunity to cram together more of everything that makes life worth living.
Not everyone is collecting things just so they can display them. Some of us are hoarding stuff to make other stuff out of — and, therefore, we are in love with this super-organized, jazzy little shop full of paper art supplies. Shabby-chic is the name of Melrose's game, and though the vintage furniture and knickknacks are great, it's the vast array of shabby-themed paper crafting supplies we go for. Rubber stamps, glitter, soldering supplies, felts, and ribbons — all arranged as if this were a museum of cool craft stuff, and not just a store. Which it isn't: Look no further for proof than the crafting work stations, card-making classes, and cozy playroom to keep kids busy while Mom ogles all the gorgeous collectibles.
4238 N. 7th Ave., 602-636-0300
Phoenix waited a long time before it had an estimable downtown record store — one that combines cool hipster stuff like Verve recordings by Nina Simone with junk we love, like Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, with guilty pleasures, like Laura Branigan and The Archies. Vinyl junkies of every stripe converge here, and first-time visitors are always wowed by the stellar displays of neat old album cover art. The owners love to rap about the ever-changing walls of records and are up on the most collectible of platters.
918 N. 2nd St., 602-795-4980, revolveraz.com
Thorne Miniature Rooms at PAM
Created and designed by Indiana native Narcissa Niblack Thorne, the Thorne Miniature Rooms at Phoenix Art Museum are a testimony to the craftiness of collectors. Thorne's giant stash of miniature furniture and household accessories, assembled during travels to England and the Far East during the first part of the 20th century, were created by the artist as a means of showing off her growing collection of miniature objects. Made at a scale of 1:12, the rooms faithfully depict the architecture and interior design of their periods and countries. There are 20 in all at PAM, including an English Lodge Kitchen with a wee stove and an Art Deco penthouse dining room so cozy, you'll want to climb in — but don't.
1625 N. Central Ave., 602-257-1222, Phxart.org
Wells Fargo Museum
Collectors of cowboy art love this museum's gallery, featuring the country's largest collection of Western-themed work by famed Wild West illustrator N.C. Wyeth. The high and low points of Arizona's classic Western history are all featured here by way of railroad and stagecoach paraphernalia, newspaper clippings, and "wanted" posters from the mid-19th century.
100 W. Washington St., 602-378-1852, wellsfargo.com/about/history/museums/phoenix
Local collectors of vintage couture know they've really arrived when proprietor David Sheflin offers them something from his private back-room gallery. That's where he stashes the Vintage Fashion archives, an unparalleled selection of collectible apparel that's been set aside for folks who collect a particular designer or who need a special gown for a special occasion. Not just anyone gets to go back there, Sheflin says — just the select few who are serious about Valenciaga or Vivienne Westwood or Halston. No wonder this appointment-only shop is a favorite of fashion fanatics everywhere — where else would one find this stuff?
4700 N. Central Ave., Ste. 117, 480-280-6838
Doll and Toy Museum
How much Luke Skywalker do you need? If the answer is "lots," then you'll want to visit this not-just-for-girls collectibles stop, bursting with toys and dolls from the past hundred-plus years. The Star Wars collection is among the very best in the country, and you won't want to miss the colossal G.I. Joe display or the gift shop, where you can buy souvenirs of Toyland for your own collection.
602 E. Adams St., 602-253-9337
Brandi Kvetko's first Halloween costume was Aunt Jemima. "I was 4 years old and I was in love with her," she says today. "I thought she was the coolest lady ever, with her bandanna and stuff. Getting to dress like her for a whole day was the best thing that had ever happened to me up 'til then."
That memory of a day spent as America's favorite purveyor of pancake syrup, combined with her love of black cats, led to Kvetko's decades-long pursuit of vintage Halloween memorabilia. She has one of the world's spookiest collections of faux macabre-themed stuff: black and orange crepe paper from the '40s, still in its original package; plastic and papier-mâché pumpkins; never-removed-from-their box 1950s tissue paper noisemakers; and a ton of super-flammable kids' costumes.
"It seems like all this stuff was designed to burst into flames," says Kvetko, who owns local vintage emporium Go-Kat-Go. "There was no such thing as flame retardants back then, and all of these little cardboard Halloween pumpkins were meant to have a candle stuck in them. That's why Halloween stuff is so hard to find — it got destroyed. It's amazing that more houses didn't burn down!"
Kvetko's fond of the pieces that depict demonic faces. "These were for kids," she points out, "but they'd never be sold to children today, in an era where some schools won't even celebrate Halloween. People would be looking at a devil costume and having a heart attack."
Among these scarier pieces, Kvetko loves her stack of old postcards with devils printed on them. "Those are the freakiest," she admits. "You would buy a postcard with Satan on it and, you know, send it to your aunt in Ohio. 'Oh, hi, we're getting ready to celebrate Halloween! How're you?'"
4314 N. 7th Ave., 623-842-0220, Go-kat-go.com