Betty Kalousek’s antique shop offers a wonderland of old gems.
by Angie Marcos
photography by Michael D. Martinez
For Betty Kalousek, the owner of Generations Antique & Art in old town La Verne, antique collecting has been a major part of her life for the past 35 years. Her passion started with antique sterling silver souvenir spoons. While cleaning out her parents’ home, she came across 10 spoons holding family members’ names. This moment sparked Betty’s personal philosophy for antique collecting—the object has to be unusual, different and old. “Antique collectors are the greatest recyclers in the world,” she says.
Walking into Betty’s Generations Antique & Art is similar to walking into a grandmother’s living room. Delicate objects—porcelain figurines, plates, glasses, earrings and pins—sit on equally delicate cupboards and tables. Each antique object thematically belongs; there is a collector’s detailed authority at work here; an artist’s vision. A feeling of delicate cautiousness sweeps over the visitor. This place is more museum than store. A childhood fear, that touching or walking by the precious objects will cause them to fall and break, surfaces.
At home in the La Verne house they have called home for 50 years, Betty and her husband Verne Kalousek say family and friends have kept them in La Verne for half a century. “I think what makes La Verne unique is the old town,” Betty says. “Most of the businesses in old town La Verne are run by the owners of the shops, and they’re anxious to keep their customers happy.”
“It is a very well-run city,” Verne adds. “It has been in the past, and it is now. I enjoy that it is a small community.” Verne’s family came from Kansas in 1923 to La Verne. His father historically owned a grocery store next door to what is now Generations Antique & Art.
Betty’s daughter Carrie Leeper helps run the antique store a few days a week. Nevertheless, the majority of the time one can expect to see Betty sitting behind the counter, eagerly waiting to explain the history of the antiques available for sale.
“I love the historical aspect of antiques. Older things are made better and with a personal touch,” she says. Betty receives most of the antiques she has for sale at her store through people who come in and sell them to her. Along with her daughter, Betty visits nearby homes and evaluates individual’s antiques. “I am always more than glad to help people and tell them what is good to keep, and what they should sell,” Betty says. “What I recommend that people keep are those objects that have memories. Even if those wanting to sell them are young, family heirlooms are something they will want to eventually pass down.” Another factor of whether an individual will sell an item is its worth. “If it’s worth a lot of money, some choose to keep the item, while others choose to sell it.”
An item is considered antique, according to Betty, if it is more than 100 years old. “However,” Betty explains, “antiques are getting younger and younger. Young people today don’t just want to sit something on a shelf; they want to use it. An object may be considered antique now if it is 50 years old.”
Then there is the rise in popularity of the internet, which has taken away some clientele but also helped. “If you’re into the internet, you can find anything for sale. I definitely do think the internet has made a little difference in business, but many people have been burned from purchasing objects on the internet. Many people want to see and feel the object before making their purchase,” Betty says.
Lending a hand
For 14 years, Betty has actively led in the Old Town La Verne Business Improvement District. The district, says Hal Fredericksen, La Verne community development director, is an association of merchants in the historical district. “They assess themselves a fee to fund improvements in the area,” Fredericksen says. The improvement district funds the landscaping, maintenance and farmer’s market in Old Town La Verne, as well as the December Holiday Open House.
Last year, Betty received the 2008 Jack Huntington Pride of La Verne Award for her outstanding community service. “The award honors volunteer service in the city,” Fredericksen says. “She was chosen because she has been active in the city for more than 20 years. She goes above and beyond in providing service to La Verne.”
Betty helps organize the Holiday Open House and supported the addition of free pictures with Santa Claus during the event. The Holiday Open House allows residents to witness the tree lighting in Mainiero Square as well as features Christmas caroling. Betty also collects toys for the Open House’s “Spark of Love” toy drive.
Betty donated the funds for the purchase of the El Camino Real bell located on D Street and Bonita Avenue. “I thought [the bell] would be a nice addition to the city,” she says. “La Verne wanted to purchase the bell and asked the Old Town La Verne Business Improvement District for funds, but they didn’t have enough so our family decided to buy the bell. I remembered the mission bells from my childhood. I thought it would be a nice gift for the city.”
“Some would say she’s a historic figure to the town,” Fredericksen says. “She’s a good friend to the city, and she cares a lot about La Verne.”
Betty was born and raised in Pomona until age 14, when her family bought a ranch in Walnut. She graduated from La Verne College in 1955 and was married that same year to Verne, also a graduate of La Verne College. The newly married Kalouseks then moved to Ontario, where they both worked as teachers. In 1960, they moved to La Verne.
In 1952, three years before they were married, Verne opened Rancho Foothill Nursery on Fruit Street, which today is run by two of the couple’s five children. Instead of being open to the public, as it had been from 1952 to 2000, it is now run as a wholesale nursery, selling its products to landscapers and gardeners. “We had a lot of agriculture here, and the nursery was just an extension of that,” Verne says. “We started out with citrus trees and avocado trees, and we just went from there.”
Forty years ago, Betty recalls putting up a self-serve avocado stand outside the nursery. Featured were fresh avocados and a change box, where people would purchase avocados by simply leaving their money in the box and even making their own change. Noting that the stand wouldn’t work in today’s society, Betty chuckles. “Nowadays people would take the avocados, the money, the stand and anything else they could get their hands on. I remember a neighbor of ours who would sell eggs on his front porch in the same manner. He would leave the eggs on his porch with a box, and people would just go and buy their own eggs. Businesses were run like that. This was farming country.”
Betty first began selling antiques in The Irish Nook, a store she ran in Glendora for 13 years from 1982 to 1995. Then, with the store being remodeled and her goods in storage, the opportunity came to open a new store in her hometown. “If I came here, I wouldn’t have to take things down, store them and then set them back up again,” Betty says. “It was pure coincidence that it was for sale at the same time that we were looking for a location.” In 1995, Betty moved her antique shop from Glendora to La Verne, where she has been running Generations Antique & Art for the past 15 years. “My shop has always been a business to me, not a hobby. It is, however, an enjoyable business,” she says.
When one purchases an object at Generations Antique & Art, she does not just purchase a collectible; she purchases a story, a history of some sort. The same applies when one meets Betty. She does not simply meet a new friendly face but, instead, meets an individual who has successfully been striving to make the city of La Verne the best it can be for the past 50 years.
La Verne in the ‘60s
Not surprisingly, Betty finds many striking differences between La Verne 1960 and present.
Where she lives. The home she has lived in for the past 50 years used to sit near a 20-acre grove. Today, it is located between a high school and a shopping center area. “I miss it a lot,” she says. “It was a very quiet, nice place. Now it’s just not so quiet anymore.” The area was once a sea of citrus trees. “At one time there were only three other houses on Fruit Street. Now it’s a main way to the freeway.”
Where she works. Old Town La Verne once held department stores, a fabric shop, a shoe store, a grocery store, a post office, a gas station and a hardware store. “People didn’t have to leave the town for much before. Everything they needed was here in old town La Verne,” Betty says. “Somewhere around 1960 things started deteriorating.”