Antique Alley: A Place of Childhood Dreams

By Jon Vreeland   |   June 21, 2018
When the store opened, Alan Howard wore his infant son, Taylor, on his back while working. Taylor is now 25, an employee of the store, and goes to UCSB for environmental studies. Alan’s daughter, Shari, graduated UCSB and works in Goleta.    

Many people possess an obvious and specific identity at a young age. One kid may be heavily into science or auto-mechanics, while another may feel they were put on the planet to play the drums or surf 40-foot waves after every major storm. And when the child reaches adulthood with the identity still in active existence – maybe even materialized into a career – many people refer to this accomplishment as “fulfilling a childhood dream.”

For lifetime Santa Barbaran Alan Howard, his proud and accomplished “childhood dream” rests on the lower half of State Street, just north of Ortega, where a lone green canopy shadows two large windows on the righthand side of the town’s main artery. One window holds classic neon signs; both display a slew of antiques and rare collectibles – some dating back to the 1920s—the type of rarities only found in Santa Barbara gems such as Antique Alley.

Just follow the racks of Hawaiian shirts that lead one into the store, where the rustic brick walls hold antique pictures, signs, paintings, clocks, anything rare and exciting. Where guitars, bicycles, more neon signs, and affordable treasures hang from the rafter and pipe-tangled ceiling. With aisles and nooks of ancient lamps and statues, pictures and mirrors and vases, vintage jewelry and clothing, typewriters, books, mirrors, baseball cards, boots, shoes, books, stuffed animals, mugs, sheet music, comic books, VHS movies, vinyl records, stereos, the strange instruments, and sunglasses.

“The store has something for everyone. It’s a cross between Pawn Stars and American Pickers,” says Antique Alley’s owner, a local resident born in Goleta. “The other places just don’t have this array of stuff.”

Whether a person buys or appreciates, Antique Alley is the type of store the passersby stumble upon, says Alan. He stands at the register, behind a case of modern and antique jewelry, while people wander in and out of the store continuously – many of them lifelong residents and longtime friends just stopping by to say hello, often discussing current events and life in general. Or like most, reminiscing on antique artifacts evoked from childhood.

But a typical day brings people from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands – people from around the globe. Alan says visitors from China are Antique Alley’s best out-of-town customers. Either way, many of the same tourists return year after year; some bring their friends and family on this no-pressure treasure hunt in Alan’s childhood dream haven at 706 State Street.

His irrefutable love and intrigue for dealing antiquated artifacts manifested when visiting his Uncle Sam’s house during childhood. Alan was “awestruck” at his Uncle Sam’s treasure. Alan has been dealing antiques since age 16; he bought a truck and loaded it with surfboards and bikes, and headed to the Santa Barbara swap meet and got his start. Then in the 1980s, Alan rented a warehouse in the Funk Zone, just half a block from the beach, until the early 1990s when he seized the opportunity to “bring the swap meet to State Street.”

Alan says the jewelry is his number-one seller. The selection is endless: turquoise necklaces, bracelets, earrings; the novel collections of gold, white gold, silver, unusual stones, chains, rings, jewelry people wear for decades. (A lady stopped in during my interview to thank Alan for the ring she still wears, the same one her late husband bought 20 years ago when the store was still new).

But it’s not only the jewelry that sells at a remarkable rate. Alan says the vintage clothing remains popular among college kids, and when the local residents, students, and tourists discover the demise of the downtown Macy’s department store, some know to cross over State Street to Antique Alley, where the search for the jacket they need or the hat or pair of boots they want often comes to a satisfying and unexpected conclusion.

“Plus, it’s the greenest store imaginable because everything is being recycled.”

And the traffic goes in and out; some buy and some don’t, but the experience one has – the communication that ignites day after day – is what Alan Howard cherishes the most. Other than the continual flow of various merchandise, Alan enjoys meeting an endless procession of new faces. “It’s like always being on vacation.”


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