More antique stores participate in Exeter’s annual Christmas Open House Thursday evenings now through Dec. 21

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By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

EXETER – Hipsters looking to ironically bring back antiquated items, “slow” living movements emphasizing local shops and farmers markets, and national days set aside for small businesses are all trying to capitalize on something Exeter has always known – you can’t really have a strong community without a downtown vested in locally owned businesses.

It used to be that small businesses dotted every downtown and worked in concert to buy from one another, help each other and join together on issues important to the business community as well as the community at large. It’s a key concept that many downtowns struggle to find but that Exeter never lost. You might say Exeter is old fashioned in that way, and they have the quintessential event to prove it.

Tomorrow, Nov. 30, the downtown businesses, in partnership with the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, will hold its 26th annual Christmas Open House. During the events, held every Thursday night now through Christmas, local shops stay open late from 5-9 p.m. and take shoppers on a trip back to a simpler time.

A mannequin at Exeter’s Lamplighter Mercantile dons a festive Santa hat right in time for the holidays and Exeter’s seasonal December open house on Thursday nights. Photo by Reggie Ellis.

A mannequin at Exeter’s Lamplighter Mercantile dons a festive Santa hat right in time for the holidays and Exeter’s seasonal December open house on Thursday nights. Photo by Reggie Ellis.

Store owners greet customers with hot cocoa, warm cider, fresh baked cookies, hors d’oeuvres and wine and a slice of nostalgia. As bundled up shoppers walk from store to store, carolers will serenade them as they peruse unique boutiques and antiques. In the heart of downtown, children will have an opportunity to get their picture taken with Santa Claus and take a ride on an antique fire truck.

And for the first time in more than a decade, many of the stores downtown will add to the vintage atmosphere both outside and inside their stores. Antique stores have made a comeback in the last few years as there are now four of them within one block of the center of downtown. Once a staple of the downtown economy, antique and repurposing stores all but vanished from downtown storefronts in the early 2000s. But as Visalia and other downtowns look at different uses for their main streets, many antique stores have flocked to the more charming and quaint corners on Pine Street in Exeter.

One of the shops that made the jump from Exeter to Visalia earlier this year is Larry Harrington. As owner of Lamplighter Mercantile and Trading Center, Harrington is optimistic about his first Christmas Open House in Exeter because he feels like antique stores are appreciated more in Exeter.

“We are really excited about being a part of the town and our first Christmas here,” Harrington said. “And it seems like they want us to be here and we have been well received by the town.”

Harrington and his wife Kathleen are certified appraisers and carry a variety of unique items in their store, from mechanical clocks to manglers (a machine that presses linens.) But the store specializes in vintage clothing, which the Harringtons delicately hand-wash and drip dry before displaying. And this time of year they have an excellent selection of fur and faux fur coats for the winter season.

“We are feeling very optimistic about this holiday season,” he said. “I’ve never been able to attend the [Christmas Open House] event but I’ve heard wonderful things.”

Dan Weiss, owner of The Grove, experienced his first open house last December, as both a business owner and a member of the community. He said he was amazed at the crowds the event drew to downtown.

“It was great exposure, for every business,” Weiss said. “But more than that there is this holiday spirit in the air that you can feel as people gather that haven’t seen each other for awhile. It’s nice the way Exeter is year round, but especially during the holidays.”

Weiss said the holiday season isn’t the best buying season for his store but it does create the most potential sales through browsing. As hundreds of people walk the sidewalks of downtown Exeter during the open house, new customers become acquainted and former customers become reacquainted with this store and often come back in January after the bustle of the holiday season. Popular items at his store include vintage furniture, antique jewelry and even some handmade items, such as pottery.

“More people see my store during that event that any other single day,” Weiss said. “Antiques are often things that people give themselves as gifts more than others.”

This is the fourth Christmas in downtown Exeter for Stacey O’Brian, owner of Pine Street Relics, and she says the event has become a great business opportunity. O’Brian said vintage and hand-made Christmas décor is among the top selling items for her store during the holidays as well as small gifts to match someone’s theme or patterns.

“It’s great to see the town come together,” O’Brian said.

In addition to stores staying open later than normal, there will be free old fashioned fire truck rides and carriage rides throughout downtown. Families will also have the opportunity to take photos with Santa Claus. The jolly old elf will be seated in his throne at Mixter Park, located at the corner of Pine and E streets. Rides and photos with Santa are available from 5 to 8 p.m.

For more information on the Christmas Open House, call the Exeter Chamber of Commerce at 559-592-2919.

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