One day this summer, a young British couple stepped out of the rain and into North Bridge Antiques on Walden Street in search of a vintage ring. Guided to a display at the back of the store, they found just what they were looking for. After paying, the two headed towards the door, only to realize it was still pouring outside.
A change of plans was in order. The man dropped to one knee in the shop’s main aisle and proposed to his surprised and delighted girlfriend.
Tracy Barron and Jane Kester, the shop’s co-managers for 15 years, love to tell this story. They say there have been many other special moments in the antiques cooperative, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Sometimes customers recognize with amazement and pleasure an item to which they have a personal connection, or they find a piece they have been looking for to add to a cherished collection.
North Bridge Antiques was founded by Harriet Bridges and started life in Tuttle’s Livery. In 2004, it moved across the street to the old firehouse building, built in 1830. The shop’s front door was the firetruck bay, and inside, a curving wall hides the original firehouse pole.
The shop sells “a little bit of everything,” says Kester, including paintings and prints, antique furniture, vintage clothing and jewelry, silver, Chinese antiques, porcelain, and pottery. There are lamps and clocks, dolls and toy soldiers, vases and candlesticks, and local memorabilia. Rare books can be found, and Barron recently sold a first edition of Frost poems.
The co-managers are especially proud of the accessibility of the shop, which has a wide center aisle with room for wheelchairs and strollers.
North Bridge Antiques is a cooperative rather than a group shop, meaning the 23 current vendors are independent and keep track of their own inventory. They take turns at the desk, waiting on customers. Prices, set after conducting research about each piece, are “reasonable,” the co-managers say, making antiques shopping accessible to everyone.
The pandemic presented challenges, but “I never appreciated how valuable this community is until Covid closed us down for three months,” Kester says. The shop applied for and received a Community Chest loan which helped pay for a Clover point of sale system. When the shop reopened with limited hours, customers began to come back.
“They were staying local to shop and wanted to support us,” says Barron, adding that as people spent more time at home, they began to look around their houses with an eye to redecorating.
The shop is a wonderful opportunity for vendors, she says, “because they get to do what they love beyond retirement age.” Barron spent 27 years as a teacher and Kester is a former book editor, but their love of antiques drew them to become involved with North Bridge.
North Bridge Antiques is heading into its busy season, when people look for gifts for others as well as items for themselves. But the vendors also enjoy the tourists who come in from all over the world, some of them looking for an interesting memento to take home.
“People can be intimidated by antique shops, thinking that they won’t know what they are looking at and what a fair value is,” Kester said, “but they come in here and see how affordable things are and how much fun it is to shop.”