Walking through Old-School Collectibles is like stepping into the past. Model trains from the 1940s line the shelves, which also display vintage toys and trinkets, 1920s cigarette cards, sports cards, vinyl records and empty cans from now-defunct beer brands.
Whether you collect coins, magnets or dolls — if you can collect it, chances are the new store at Kelso’s Three Rivers Mall has it. Sprinkled among the vintage items are new sports jerseys and plaques, rare toys, glassware, superhero posters, dolls and a host of new knickknacks.
“I like to collect ... I’m an organized hoarder,” quipped owner Wendell Hunter. “You’d be amazed at what people collect.”
Hunter, 63, has been in the collectible retail business for most of his career. He started selling sports memorabilia at a mall in Sacramento before briefly moving to Oregon in 1996. That’s where he started selling decorations alongside the sports items.
He noticed that his mostly female customer base gravitated towards decorations and other collectibles, so he expanded his offerings of non-sports items. The collectible part of his business continued to grow as he moved around and ran shops in California and Oregon.
Hunter and his wife moved to Cathlamet two and half years ago as a way to escape the heat and fire seasons in Southern Oregon. Hunter could have retired, but he said he got bored just fixing things up around the house. After re-roofing the house, painting it and remodeling the kitchen, Hunter finally decided it was time to start a store to pass the time.
“I didn’t do it to make money. It’s just more to have fun and meet people. It’s like a hobby. I know it sounds weird,” Hunter said with a laugh.
The 3,500-square-foot store previously housed a clothing shop and required only a few modifications before the couple could open the doors. Mall management paid for the changes and repairs. Hunter said he was surprised how easy it has been to work with the mall managers.
“I don’t know why more people that have smaller businesses like this don’t try the mall. I think they automatically think the mall is going to be super expensive, but they need to talk to the mall manager. It’s not,” he said.
At first Hunter said he thought business might be a bit slow in the mall, but foot traffic has been heavier than expected since the store opened this fall. Customers come in waves after movies get out from the nearby Regal Cinemas theater, Hunter said.
He’s not aiming to be a thrift store – so you won’t find cheap appliances, clothes or Tupperware. Instead, the business strives to be a source of hard-to-find vintage toys or rare trinkets.
Many of the toys are in packages that haven’t been opened, and several items are new but no longer manufactured. An entire shelf of miniature “Littlest Pet Shop” figurines has attracted customers from as far south as Salem. The figurines have different “generations” of pets, and some of the 1990s and 2000s toys are no longer available in stores.
Customers flock to the model trains, too, Hunter said. He purchased a storage locker of train sets a while back, and he was surprised to see how quickly they sold. He now also sells new sets for beginning collectors. The model train club in the mall has sent him several customers, he said.
The name “Old-School” comes from his grandkids who often comment on how things in his house are “old school.”
“I thought it was kind of funny because to me it wasn’t very old, some of the stuff. It’s funny they look at a record and they don’t know what it is,” Hunter said.
Hunter revels in seeing customer’s reactions – whether it’s a confused kid calling a vinyl record is “the biggest CD I’ve ever seen” or an adult customer reminiscing about a “Star Wars” toy.
“It’s really fun to find something that other people enjoy,” Hunter said.