by Erin Grycel
photography by Summer Herndon
The former chicken ranch on White Avenue appears to be abandoned and almost lifeless. Creaking in the wind, a sign states “We sell, buy, or trade antique furniture.” The long gravel path, along with rickety antique furniture and looming cobwebs, evokes images of Boo Radley peering through a broken window at onlookers.
But step inside. The once ominous atmosphere is transposed into a feeling of warmth as Ken Ruppert, owner of Ken’s Olden Oddities Antique Store, welcomes the customer over the Righteous Brothers, which bellows from a radio atop an old armoire in the store.
A seller of antiques for more than 30 years, Rupert relies on his merchandise, customers, advertising and pricing “through years of experience.” The prices of the antiques vary according to each specific purchase. A vintage chest of drawers can range from $100 to $200 depending on “the type of wood and level of restoration,” says Ruppert.
“I do not think that [furniture] books and price guides really mean that much,” he says. “I know what something will sell for and what people want.”
The store focuses its efforts on items from the 1920s and the turn of the century. Ruppert explains that his store concentrates on all items from the time period, not just collectibles. “Some stores might just specialize in hot wheels, but those are something to collect, not antiques.”
Betty Kalousek, owner of Generations, an antique store on D Street, claims, “Ken has larger items. He has complete furniture sets, and he will repair and finish them.”
Just like the old dentist chair, pot belly stove and rustic flour sifter, Ruppert has a unique past and an important purpose to contribute to his community. “It is not that I always wanted to be in the antique business; it was my way of life,” says Ruppert.
Growing up on an orange grove in La Verne, Ruppert was surrounded with old farm tools and barns. “All year around I worked on the groves and was surrounded with old stuff,” he says. “I just began to like it.”
“The biggest start was when I began collecting old turn of the century antique bottles when I was 12 years old,” says Ruppert. “My dad would take me to the Pomona Swap Meet so I could sell the bottles.”
From that point on, Ruppert has been involved in the antique business. “I worked at grocery stores and various other jobs, but I always had my antique shop.” He began renting an antique shop in Pomona in 1964, and moved to La Verne 18 years ago.
He claims the difference between an ordinary business and his antique store is the profit and personal satisfaction. “I never expected it to be a killing, but I have made a living,” he claims.
There is another advantage, Ruppert adds, to owning an antique store. “I was actually able to enjoy my children. I would close my shop and go watch my son’s baseball game. I couldn’t do that in a regular job.”
Kelly Rico, long-time customer of the store, says, “Ken is very helpful, but he is not pushy. He knows what to do, how to do it and saves you money.”
Although Ruppert’s store is “a one man show,” and he has odd store hours, he affirms, “I need the time to treat the customers [individually] so I can meet their needs and make them happy.” His philosophy on maintaining a successful business is: “If you give good service and don’t misrepresent what you sell, you can’t go wrong.”
Kalousek describes Ruppert as a person who “marches to the tune of his own drummer.” Ruppert’s ability to divert from the routine way of life is, in essence, the core of his many contributions to the community. “I have teachers come in here and borrow things for Gold Rush Days, turn of the century cooking utensils and other items,” he declares. “I never worry about them breaking; I think the children can learn more from the antiques.”
Hanging on the wall, there is an award from the La Verne Police Department, thanking Ruppert for his generous support. Even though he has helped many members of the community, Ruppert says, “I am more of a quiet person. I am content with my business, and I enjoy my work.”
Ruppert says many changes have taken place within the last 15 years in the antique business. Store owners currently prefer to have a communal setting, centered around antiques as opposed to individual locations.
“I used to make antique maps of all the stores around the vicinity of La Verne, Claremont and Pomona for antiques,” he says. “The stores were all single dwellings.”
Presently, he owns the only antique store around La Verne “that stands alone instead of turning to an antique center.” He adds, “There is no personal contact when dealers turn to antique malls.”
When Ruppert bought the property, the former chicken ranch was disintegrating. When he restored the roof, Ruppert built wooden beams, which hang from the ceiling, to display chairs and various lights.
Hidden in the back of the store lies an orange crate made by the city of La Verne; it is a sentimental antique that he refuses to sell.”It reminds me of the orange groves,” he says, reminiscing about the past.
From auctions, to estate sales, to European wholesalers, Ruppert tries to meet the needs of all his customers. “I deal with children from 10 years old all the way up to 80-year-old people,” he claims. “People are beginning to realize that antiques do not decrease in value.”
Teresa Warren, a customer of the store, says the shop suits her needs. “I love to go through all of the stuff because it is interesting. You never know what you’re going to find,” she says.
Each piece of merchandise is not only appealing aesthetically, but it represents a point of time in history. Separating the antique store and Ruppert’s personal workshop is a light fixture that hangs alone, from a high beam. Sitting in a corner there is also a stove that could reveal a lifetime of stories.
Ruppert says, “This light fixture is from the turn of the century, when electricity was first being used. This stove was found in the mansion behind the Riverside Museum.” Hairpins from the 1920s, a novel by Winston Churchill and numerous stained glass windows are some of the rarities that contribute to the store.
Kalousek says there is a unique component that sets Ruppert’s store apart from other antique shops. “Ken is a professional restorer not just an antique dealer,” says Kalousek.
“In all the years, a piece of furniture has not become unimportant to me,” says Ruppert. “I understand that it is something that makes you really happy.” He adds that “to trust me with the [furniture], it has to be done right, and there has to be no problems; that is the way restoring works.”
Although Ruppert describes his store as a place “to step back in time,” he acknowledges that the community cannot stay complacent. “The city has changed immensely, but when progress comes, you must go with it.”
The antique business has enabled Ruppert to stay in contact with the past, yet meet the needs of today. It is a subtle landmark of the city of La Verne. It symbolizes the cozy, small town atmosphere that has withstood the test of time.
“I will run this antique store, as long as life goes on. This is what I do,” says Ruppert with a sudden sparkle in his eyes.