Walking down Placerville’s Main Street past the eclectic and charming shop windows promising unique surprises inside, you might think you’re daydreaming a bit as the strains of a familiar song come wafting closer … “I’m picking up good vibrations … ”
The music is emanating from one of the more entertaining local venues, Hangtown Antiques and Flip Side Records, where owner James Roehr welcomes visitors into an atmosphere vibrant with historical keepsakes and nostalgic pleasures.
The excitement begins as you step inside.
The bright smile on the 40-year-old shopkeeper’s face never disappears as he tells browsers stories surrounding an impressive inventory that runs the gamut from antique jukeboxes and slot machines to vintage clothing, furniture and posters.
One of the first things noticed, however, is a collection of celebrity photographs that grace the wall behind the main store counter. Each is signed, with certificates of authentication.
“Of all the things in the store that it might be hard to part with, I’d have to say the photos would be tough — but everything’s for sale,” Roehr said, his eyes lighting up as he pointed to a smiling Frank Sinatra. Sinatra is joined by other members of the “Rat Pack,” including Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Nearby, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are flanked by Annette Bening and Warren Beatty.
But wait … right below the more “modern” photos is a collection of stars from the 1930s, also with authentic signatures, that Roehr snagged from a local estate sale, formerly the property of a woman who was an avid fan club member from that era.
Check out the Clark Gable, Claire Trevor and a very young Henry Fonda, and be sure to ask Roehr about the enigmatic, captivating Jean Parker.
In fact, as you browse through the 2,200-square-foot store, give yourself at least an hour as Roehr or one of his two children, Robert, 18, and Summer, 17, will fill you in on some fascinating tales behind each acquisition.
For example, ever wonder how the term “slap stick comedy” came about? Well, Roehr not only can tell you, but he actually has a slap stick for sale.
“In the 1930s, in the circus, clowns would sneak up on people and smack them with this,” he said, holding up a simple contraption of two attached wooden paddles that contains a small indentation where a .22 caliber blank shell would fit.
“You can still see the leather and horsehair that hold it together,” Roehr pointed out. “Everyone on one side of the circus tent would get a big laugh when someone on the other side was slapped with the loud stick.”
It is no exaggeration to say there is something for everyone at Hangtown Antiques.
Sports fans will be excited by a baseball mitt signed by Joe DiMaggio and a home plate that bears Pete Rose’s signature, while “Trekkies” and other science fiction fans may revel in the Star Trek and Star Wars figurines and other memorabilia.
“I could walk you around all day and still not see everything,” said Roehr as he pointed out his collection of Lionel trains (“We had them around my house all the time when I was kid”) and another display of Sterling silver plateware said to have been used on the Daylight Express, what Roehr described as the “elite of elite” passenger trains of an era long past.
“Train guys go nuts when they see this stuff,” said Roehr, who paused to explain yet another collection of items that were all brought into the store by a local gold miner who managed to procure all sorts of treasures from El Dorado County waterways, primarily Weber Creek.
“As a matter of fact, pretty much everything is local,” said Roehr, sweeping an arm to take in a wall full of antique tools and a display case featuring Indian arrowheads.
In another glass case, 1950s reproductions of the artistry of Frederick Remington dominate.
There also is a corner dedicated to Chinese antiques, including chests, ceremonial dancing helmets and silken wear, and yet another treasure-filled nook contains jewel-toned bottles and glassware including some from the nearby historical Pearson’s Soda Works, now the Cozmic Café.
One item not for sale is a large stuffed elk’s head, a collectible that perhaps sets the tone for the slightly masculine flavor of the store.
“I call my inventory ‘man-tiques,’” said Roehr, although as he spoke it was noted his customers included two young ladies who appeared delighted with their “finds,” a pair of cowgirl boots and a vintage jacket.
“‘No dishes, no doilies’ is the store motto,” he added, smiling.
As Roehr sidled away to help another customer, the bluesy sounds of Paul McCartney performing “Kansas City” filled the antique store and spilled out onto the sidewalk, enticing passersby to check out the second aspect of the business: Flip Side Records.
Fully a quarter of the store at 452 Main St. is filled with stacks and stacks of vinyl records and piles of cassettes and even eight-track tapes.
Roehr loves music, and his passion has resulted in a dream of a collection that will take browsers back to their youth and beyond.
The albums consist of artists from Mathis to Madonna, Manilow to the Mamas and Papas, Alpert to Alabama.
And if you need a bunch of 45s to play on the jukebox on display at the front of the store that you just picked up at a bargain price, then you’re all set as you pick through the hundreds and hundreds of records in back.
The Seeburg Select-O-Matic jukebox from which the Pied Piper-like music pours, drawing folks into the store, is offered for $3,900, but as Roehr points out, “All prices on all items are negotiable.”
More jukeboxes are available, and customers are invited to try out the slot machines and pinball machines for free.
Formerly an electrician for 20 years, Roehr said he began collecting antiques and other miscellaneous items about two years ago, and the endeavor just blossomed.
He had a space in a nearby antique consortium before opening up his own storefront a little over a year ago.
Son Robert said he loves working in the store as manager, and has high praise for his sister Summer, who is involved in the marketing and bookkeeping aspects of the business.
Asked to describe the inventory at Hangtown Antiques, Robert said, “It’s fun, interesting, unusual, abstract, adventurous and awesome.”
“Come in because we have nothing but fun stuff here,” his dad added. “There’s a lot of entertaining history here.”
Hangtown Antiques and Flip Side Records is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Call 530-622-8010 for more information.