Williamston, Mich. is synonymous with antiques. The quaint, old storefronts that line Grand River Ave. have been home to antique shops since the 1970s. Today, the shops and malls that sell antiques still draw visitors from all over to Williamston.
Located at 126 W. Grand River, Old Plank Road Antiques is the oldest running antique shop in Williamston. Unlike an antique mall, which is one building with space rented to individual sellers, Old Plank remains an individually owned store
Diane Cratsley, display artist and associate dealer at Old Plank, says antique shops started to appear in Williamston during the 1970s. During that time the storefronts were boarded-up and Williamston appeared as a “ghost-town”, Cratsley says.
Women in the area started to reopen shops and the town’s historic buildings seemed to fit with antiques. Antique shopping was on the rise and many families had more disposable income during this time, Cratsley points out. During that era the shops were bountiful and often featured parlors or tearooms upstairs.
In 1983, David Goldman opened up Old Plank Road Antiques. This was a time when antique malls were becoming more popular, but Goldman wanted to own his own space to display his collection.
25 years later, Old Plank Road Antiques remains the oldest individually owned and operated antique shop in Williamston.
Cratsley says she prefers working at an individually owned shop, “You get to know the people and what they like,” she says. Stephanie Carlson, a junior at Michigan State University, prefers to antique at shops rather than malls for the personal touch.
Old Plank mainly specializes in furniture from the 1860s to present. Although, Cratsely says she is starting to feature vintage clothing from the 50s, 60s and 70s, hopping to draw in younger customers.
Carlson, an admitted avid vintage shopper, often travels from East Lansing to Williamston to help create her own fashion. “The stores that are here have such a variety that I can always find what I’m looking for,” she says.
Old Plank acquires its collection mainly from individuals who make appointments or from auctions.
Cratsely enjoys antiquing for its historical ties. Having always been a fan of history, antiquing allows her to make history tangible. But as she points out, “Not everything that is old is valuable.” And several books lie on a shelf hidden with a curtain behind her desk, which help her decipher the old from the valuable.
She continues to point out, antiques are the original “green movement” and she adds, “As we pass [the antiques] on we hope [they] will continue.” Raw materials once used to make the antiques have, in many cases, become endangered or too expensive to continue to use. She hopes people will continue passing on the antiques and appreciate the work that has been put into them.
As the baby boomers grow older and a void in antique sales becomes apparent, Cratsely hopes to renew young peoples interest in antiques. She hopes younger customers can appreciate the hand-made work and the personal appreciation owning a one of a kind piece can bring.
Although an original staple of Williamston, antique stores have faded slightly. At one time numbering 15, now only a few shops and malls remain.
“[Antique shops] don’t have the pull they once did, now one spouse may come for the antiques while the other is interested in other shopping or local art,” says Barb Burke of the Williamston Chamber of Commerce. Instead of once feeding the Williamston economy, antiques have become part of a collaborative effort. Burke points out antiques may bring visitors into the community, but the many local shops, artwork and eateries keep them there.