Tacoma may not be the epicenter of the Coffee Generation or the Birthplace of Grunge but the little city 30 miles south of Seattle has a number of hidden gems that anyone traveling through the Pacific Northwest should take time to see.
In addition to a burgeoning jazz scene and the world famous Museum of Glass, Tacoma is also home to Antique Row, a series of small but varied antique stores on Broadway Street. There are over 45 antique and collectible stores in Tacoma, but the dozen or so that reside on Broadway St. are the biggest and most unusual.
Just past Tulleys’ Coffee on the corner of 9th and Broadway sits Lily Pad Antiques. You’ll see a red and white sandwich sign out front that says, “We Buy Used Toys.” Inside are enough toys to make even the most discerning collector reach for his checkbook. Whether you are a serious collector or a pop art culture vulture there is something here for you.
Are you looking to add something unusual to your kid’s room? Lily Pad has a four-foot tall toy chest shaped like a red and blue U.S. Mail box. Is your son or daughter too old for toy boxes? Check out the lunch boxes from the 60s and 70s. What scenester wouldn’t want to go to school with a genuine Hong Kong Phooey lunch box? Or maybe a Space:1999 box is just what your kid needs to get noticed in chem class.
Now that the VH-1 is holding auditions for the New Partridge Family it’s the perfect time to get a mint copy of the Partridge Family Song Special magazine. It’s a bargain for only $5.
Of course Lily Pad has all the things most collectible stores offer. They have a section for old comic books, a few boxes of baseball cards, two boxes of albums, and old children’s books from the 40s and 50s. Anyone remember the Little Golden Books, A Pony for Tony or Mr. Ed? Behind that you can find the Tip Top Elf Book, Kerry and the Fire Engine Dog.
If you bring the kids with out remember to keep them close at hand. You can’t miss the sign that says, “We Break, We Cry. You Break, You buy.”
Just down the sidewalk from the Lily Pad is Lick’s Antiques and Watch Repair. Two storeys tall, Lick’s is filled with dishes, watches, grandfather clocks and assorted furniture.
Walk past the electronic frog that croaks when you enter the store and you will soon end up in one of the largest collections of colored glass in the antique district. Lick’s has old glassware in blue, red, pink, green and gold. In fact, the whole back area is filled with antique dishware of all types. If it’s dishes you are after Lick’s is the place to be.
At the bottom of the stairs is a fine collection of watches, both pocket and wrist. Very few antique stores carry pocket watches anymore, much less ones that run. While most of Lick’s pocket watches are over $200 you can bet they will run just fine.
Upstairs the stock is a little less organized. You’ll find a Norelco reel-to-reel player next to a giant sombrero which will be next to a Rick Springfield album. There are still treasures to find, though. For $89 you can take home a floor lamp from the 40s that looks like it was inspired by The Jetsons. Picture two pie tins glued together along the edges and attached to a long curved green aluminum tube.
At the end of Broadway Street sits Rampart. Rampart is part art gallery, part antique store. Paintings from local artists cover the walls while you walk in and around furniture and appliances from the 30s, 40s and 50s. By far the quirkiest store in the district, Rampart peddles the unusual rather than the ancient. You can buy a Blade-O-Matic razor blade dispenser that looks like it came out of a 1940s service station, or you can take home a 1930’s hand-crank phonograph that still works. Near the front door is a chair that looks like it came from either a barbershop or a dentist’s office. Step a few feet to the left and you’ll find and old milkshake mixer with the old aluminum cup still attached and ready to make a malted.
The granddaddy of Broadway Street is definitely Sanford & Son Auctions. Sanford & Son has three levels of the largest, oldest and strangest things you’ve ever seen. As soon as you walk in you see two enormous beveled glass windows which came out of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo of 1909. Each window is at least ten feet wide and eight feet tall. They are filled with colored circles of glass set in a series of circles and radiating lines.
They certainly set the tone for the rest of the shop which includes a sarcophagus lid from 2,500 B.C and a giant pink padded wardrobe with four doors that stands over six feet tall and some ten feet wide. Downstairs on the second level are a number of smaller rooms where local merchants can sell their wares. Below that is the third level where some of the largest pieces reside.
If you are looking for 30-foot-long sideboards with six-foot mirrors, or eight-foot-tall wardrobes where the kids can hide from mom and dad then this is the floor you need to be on. It’s obvious many of the items here were taken from public buildings as few people have room in their home for things like two life-size wooden women leaning forward with 6-inch glass baubles in their hands.
The lowest level also contains a small library of old books. If you look hard enough you can find some real treasures. Near the back is a long-out-of-print book, “Mastering the English Language.” One of the chapters begins, “For some reasonÃ¢Â?Â¦the letter u has been the butt of derision for some years.” You won’t find that one at Barnes & Noble.
You can easily spend an entire day in Tacoma’s antique district. When you get tired there are restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance. Hanging out in Seattle’s little sister city can be a relaxing and inexpensive way to spend a weekend.