Varieties if full of antiques that are just as eclectic as the customers who walk through the doors on a regular basis. In fact, owners Arie and Diane Versendaal say their antique shop in downtown Newton sees more out-of-town visitors than locals. At least, that’s what their guestbook says.
The book rests atop the front counter of the 118 N. Second Ave. W. shop. A recent music festival in the town square attributed to a small bump in out-of-state clientele (Arie said the North Carolina and South Carolina customers were members of The Marshall Tucker Band), but other pages show similar trends.
People are coming from Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin — all over the place. Diane said these customers are not just visiting Varieties, they are making stops at many of the stores around the town square. Other guestbook entries show visitors from across the state are making their way downtown, too.
Knoxville Raceway fans and Tulip Time regulars oftentimes find their way to the shop, browse the shelves packed full of arts and antiques and treasures, perhaps find something they like and then strike up a conversation with the Versendaals. That kind of experience is fairly typical for the local business owners.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Diane said behind the front counter of the shop last week. “And we even had people come from New York and Texas. We’ve shipped stuff to people who have stopped in and were flying back. We have people that come back to Newton to visit family members. It’s just fun to see that.”
BROWSING CAN FEEL NOSTALGIC
In addition to those wandering in from the interstate or from U.S Route 6, there are those who are looking for something specific. At Varieties, specific is the special of the day, every day. Old school trinkets, refurbished decor, odd knick-knacks and even some modern novelties are common finds.
With a great deal of shelf space dedicated to old antiques and bygone artifacts, there are a number of customers who browse through Varieties with a nostalgic lens. All of sudden a guest sees a recognizable relic of their past or their parents’ pasts, and they have to have it.
Products are meticulously placed on one of the many tables and shelves inside the store, which is arranged along two paths. Arie and Diane keep the place well-organized and clean to allow for better browsing. They say some customers have spent hours looking through the place.
The maze isn’t the pathway through the store; the maze is all the merchandise towering over customers. It’s easy to get lost just looking through Varieties. Even after another passthrough, there is more to discover. Arie and Diane are particular about what is put up for sale, but items from any time period will do.
“That’s why it’s called Varieties,” Diane said with a laugh. “…Some people just come looking for certain items. Others come just to look or are impulse buyers.”
BUSINESS KEEPS THEM BUSY
Varieties opened at a somewhat inconvenient time in February 2020. The shop and numerous other businesses throughout the country shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the store withstood the shutdowns and has added 9,100 new items since it opened its doors.
Arie and Diane are originally from Grinnell but have lived in Newton for more than three decades. The two opened Varieties as a way to keep busy after Arie, and eventually Diane, retired. Neither had any real experience running a store before, other than the time Arie spent in his grandfather’s shop in Sully.
It was a shop somewhat similar to Varieties, but maybe not as nice, Arie said. Arie’s grandfather would frequent auctions and put the items he found in piles for customers to sort. Such practices would not fly at Varieties. As an added perk, Arie and Diane can sell whatever kind of goods they want.
Sure, selling vintage doodads and what-have-yous is part of the business. But Arie also has a passion for refurbishing and repurposing, a hobby he has picked up on the past few years. The finished products, like custom shadow boxes and restored lanterns, are usually put up for sale at Varieties.
‘IT’S ALWAYS FINE TO JUST LOOK’
Sometimes Arie looks at some of the stuff available at Varieties and feels a sense of intrigue. Perhaps its the intricate glassware that piqued an interest, or a complicated woodwork. How did someone make this? Why did someone make this? It amazes him some of the things people can do.
Customers are amazed by some of the things Arie does, too. Every so often a person comes by the shop and asks how he restored the lanterns hanging above the register. Rather than keeping the knowledge to himself, Arie happily explains his method. Some might think it’s a bad business decision. Not Arie.
To him, it’s no secret. If someone else can learn how to restore furniture or decor, that’s fine by him. That kind of open door policy is also shared by the shop. Arie and Diane want their customers to be carefree and not pressured to buy anything. Sometimes a look and a pleasant conversation is just as valuable.
“Just because you come in doesn’t mean you have to buy something,” Arie said. “Almost 90 percent of the people who come in here will stop at the door, turn around and say, ‘Thank you.’ Whether they buy anything or not … They had a good time looking.”
Diane added, “We want them to feel comfortable and to enjoy themselves … The main thing is for them to feel comfortable in here. When we greet them and they say, ‘We’re just looking.’ Our line is: It’s always fine to just look.”
Luckily for Varieties there’s always plenty of things to look at.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or at firstname.lastname@example.org