GAYS MILLS - If you were strolling through the Gays Mills Mercantile Center, you might notice a little something different has popped up next to the Crawford County Independent office.
Little Boxes Vintage LLC has been working hard setting up their new shop in Gays Mills following their move here in early March. The shop is a family affair run by the wife and husband team of Charissa and Jimmy Richter in addition to their young son, Cecil. The name Little Boxes also pays homage to the song ‘Little Boxes’ made famous by Pete Seeger which was a favorite of Jimmy's mother.
The Richters have a long history in dealing with antiques, oddities, and other vintage finds. Getting their start working with Charissa’s grandparents business, Cannonball Express in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Growing up I definitely had a healthy respect for how to behave in a houseful of antiques,” Charissa recalled. “After my grandpa retired, they really picked up their business, and it was a real way for Jimmy and him to bond over antiques.”
For Jimmy, buying, selling, and collecting is also in his blood.
“I grew up going to garage sales with my mom and grandma. As I got older, I joke I had an unhealthy fascination with records and began buying and selling them. So when I met Paw Paw (Charissa’s grandpa), he asked me if I could help him with his business. I started just sorting and cataloging his antique book collection. And eventually he asked me to do some research on certain items too.”
Jimmy added, this work was done before the ease that the internet can bring to such a task.
“The Library of Congress was a big help to me on some of the very unusual items,” he said with a chuckle. He spent hours looking over books on antiques to learn about antique books and other collectables. “Paw Paw even had copyright books and I would spend hours poring over them and write little reports for him,” Jimmy recalled.
As time went on and Charissa’s grandparents aged, Jimmy and Charissa started to take on some of the lower budget items and set up at various flea markets and other shows on their own.
“Once we walked away from the first sale we did, we were hooked,” Charissa recalled. The couple saved up $50 and invested it into purchasing little items for their own collection to sell and things grew quickly from there.
“The first estate we did was my family,” Jimmy noted. “My dad was downsizing a four generation family home into a two bedroom apartment a state away. We spent the better part of a year working through it, consulting Maw Maw (Charissa’s grandmother) and Paw Paw along the way. And I really fell in love with the business.”
Shortly after, in 2004 Jimmy found himself at a crossroads with his career in social work and decided that he wanted to pursue the antiques and vintage business more full time.
“We began running under the umbrella of Maw Maw and Paw Paw who were getting less physically able to run the business themselves,” Charissa shared.
Four short years later, Paw Paw passed away. However, over the past four years that the couple had been working most closely with Maw Maw and Paw Paw, they had also been quietly buying items and tucking them away.
“We knew we would be moving from Ohio to Colorado, and when we packed up to leave, we had 10 or 15 totes full of vintage,” Jimmy recalled. “We specialized in a lot of the same things we do now, advertising, belt buckles, tins, crates and just dabbled in a lot of things. We didn’t have the money to invest in big ticket items, but we focused on things we knew we could sell.”
The couple made it to Colorado in 2009 and as Jimmy put it they “hit the ground running.” Quickly opening up a shop, as well as working on consulting for various estates. Once again, the internet opened doors for the couple, when they were able to establish their online presence thanks to the website Etsy, which specializes in vintage and handmade goods.
As with all trends Jimmy and Charissa have found that what is vintage and in vogue also seems to come in waves.
“When something goes stale, we’re able to switch our focus to a different aspect,” Jimmy notes of the business. “However, there are some things that never seem to go out of style. Advertising and kids toys are examples of things that just continue to go up. I think there are a lot of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even beyond that are recapturing their youth with the items they buy. And that is a big thing about this business that we love. We’re not just selling junk or whatever you want to call it, we’re working to preserve history and help people connect with their memories.
“And ultimately oftentimes we find that we help people deal with the stuff they no longer need,” Jimmy explained. “We love working on estates where we get to learn about the history of items and then go on and share those things with the people who buy them. Sometimes the emotional value of the items is higher than the monetary value, and that’s okay. Some people might say some of the stuff is needless stuff, but from an emotional standpoint, it’s not needless, it’s been a part of their lives.
“Listening to stories about families and how the items played into their lives really helps our clients process the situation,” Jimmy said. “Once we had a woman come into our old store and she began sobbing after she saw a set of Pyrex bowls that her grandma used to make cookies with her when she was a little girl, and seeing them brought back such memories. She bought them, and used them to make cookies with her granddaughter, and seeing stuff like that really just made my day.”
As for Charissa and Jimmy, they both have their own personal favorites in the curated collection at their shop.
“I’m a real pin back button hound,” Charissa said with a chuckle.
“In addition to records, I really love trucker hats and folk art. I have several pieces of mid-1800s folk art in my personal collection that I really love,” Jimmy added.
In addition to the fun and whimsical items, over the years, the couple has come across both creepy and controversial items as well.
“I’ve always liked to keep a cabinet of creepy,” Jimmy explained. “It’s been a staple in every shop we’ve had. One of our mainstays there is Martha, a forensic head model we came across when we did an estate in Colorado. The estate owners daughter was a forensic scientist and this was a model made for the courtroom of an unidentified murder victim. How I found her was both terrifying and hilarious. I was crawling under an antique table and came face to face with a green head wrapped in plastic. I screamed and the family laughed and said ‘You must have found her!’”
Through their work curating the shop, the couple has also come across items that stem from more terrible and tragic parts of history.
“Our work puts us in touch with all kinds of folks and a wide variety of items,” Jimmy explained. “We’ve done estates with a lot of Black Americana items, some also featured items that had poor depictions of Native People as well. We went on to buy the whole estate and knew we didn’t need to be making money on those items and we were able to offer them up to a museum.”
The Richters have now brought their business to Gays Mills, where they also relocated to in the early spring. The couple have been working tirelessly not only preparing their shop, but also getting to know the locals and their treasures.
“Working on private estates is probably our favorite thing,” Charissa noted. “We don’t go to many antique shops anymore, but really enjoy making lasting connections with people.”
“Every family has treasures and trash. But often, people will discount the things that they have that are of great value,” Jimmy pointed out. “So we really like to talk to people and build a rapport with them and help them trust that their treasures (and their trash at times) will go to a good home.
“We take a lot of pride in being fair with people and honest about what their items are worth,” jimmy pointed out. “We’ve found for some people we’ve worked with; it isn’t about the money; it is about finding the right home. And that level of emotional attachment is important to be remembered. So we work very hard at keeping our collection curated. We’re very picky about what goes in the showroom. Not everything goes online, not everything goes in the shop. We have many different outlets to make sure items go to the right homes.”
Currently, in addition to working with locals and their collections, the Richters are also working on building their record collection for sale, they are spot 31 at the Village Green House Rummage sale as well as their ongoing spot at an Antique Mall in Colorado Springs. But not to be forgotten is their soft opening of Little Boxes Vintage LLC in Gays Mills, this Friday, August 13.
“Our anticipated hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday,” Jimmy shared. “All other times are by appointment or luck. We encourage people to call or email us as well if they would like us to look through their collections, archives or stuff. There is usually always something that is salvageable. We also offer appraisal services of items as well.”You can find Little Boxes Vintage LLC at their shop in Gays Mills at 120 Sunset Ridge Ave Suite 116 (In the Mercantile Building next to the Crawford County Independent Office) on Facebook or Instagram under their name, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by a good old telephone call at 608-448-6880.