Surrounded by once treasured items, that may have went out of style many years ago and now are antiques or collectibles, are in the loving hands of the Tom and Mary Welch at the Whistletop Antique store in Calmar. Many collectibles are advertising souvenirs from different area towns, from cookbooks to knickknacks. To find these special treasures, stop by the newly relocated Whistlestop Antiques, fitting in nicely at Calmar’s historic old train depot building.
Mary and Tom have graciously agreed to also give out tourist information since it is right beside the Prairie Farmer Trail, helping out the town of Calmar. They are also working on putting together a small museum in the back. They kicked off last weekend with their first historical area book signing and presentation by Calmar resident Elaine Myhre Hegg and plan to sell area authors’ books in the store. They are also selling notecards depicting scenics from our area by yours truly, Joyce Meyer Photography.
The couple became interested in being serious collectors in the early 1990’s, when they were living in Dubuque and both working there, though Mary was very interested in antiques before that and Tom had worked for the “Antique Trader” (a national antiques news magazine) in his younger days. After graduating from Loras College in 1970, Tom soon began his first career as a news reporter for the local Dubuque television station. Tom has fond memories of interviewing Svetlana Stalin (Joseph Stalin's daughter), and also covering the then famous Wadena Rock Festival.
Mary recollects, “My father was Art Rolfes, who had a jewelry and watch repair business in Calmar for many years, beginning in 1952. Dad had lost most of his eyesight due to macular degeneration and was worried about what would become of his store building. It was more than just a store building to me, as my mother, father, grandmother, and I had lived in the upstairs apartment for about six years--it was the first home I remember. We bought it from him and after having quite a bit of work done on it, opened up as a weekend-only antique business in 1996. After doing this a while, an opportunity came up for me to transfer my job to the Decorah area due to someone's retirement and luckily, Tom could also transfer to an employer in this area for the insurance sales he was involved with in 1998. Both of our children were out of school and away from home, so it seemed like a good time to relocate to Calmar. The store was successful and Tom eventually went to full-time management of it until 2010, when Tom had a severe stroke that meant months of hospitalization and a couple of years of out-patient therapy. The store took a back seat to all of this and remained closed most of the time.”
Mary enthusiastically added, “Now, we are reopened at the Calmar Railroad Depot Building, next to the Prairie Farmer Trail. Our store offers a variety of antique and collectible items, including books, glassware, pottery, toys, breweriana, and area advertising souvenirs. The display cabinet behind our check-out counter was made by Calmar Manufacturing for my dad, and was his pride and joy. The large check-out counter was one my father purchased from Mr. Hazelton, an older gentleman who was a jeweler in Calmar long ago. We also have some shelving that came from the old hardware store in Calmar. Customers often enjoy browsing through the many drawers of small items relating to automobiles, old time schools, farming, military, railroad and sewing. We have a "library room" that is the old ticket office and includes many of the old church cookbooks from the area. In addition to the store, we offer tourist information that includes Calmar, Winneshiek County, Howard County, Clayton County Eastern Iowa and also southern Minnesota, for the travelers passing through.”
There is also a "mini-museum" area being developed in the back part of the building that will focus on railroad history and Calmar history.
“We are very lucky to have Dennis Ohlert, who grew up in Calmar and was curator of the Porter House Museum in Decorah for many years, assisting in development of this museum area. Another feature of the museum area will be old scrapbooks of town news that will be available to browse through while sitting at the old City Council table, in front of the Frana Opera House curtain that is decorated with old advertising from businesses that were here early in the 1900's. This curtain belongs to Marty Timp, who has generously lent it to the town for their use. If you have an item you think would be suitable to include in this museum area, contact us by stopping or calling 563 562-4077. Any donated item would be kept in the new locked display cabinet, and would include a card that states who donated it, this could also be donated in memory of a family member,” explains Mary.
Smartly done, the long large sign out front will continue to draw in travelers passing by and even bicyclists on the trail stopping for ice cream. Inside, the displays have all the bells and whistles of a high-end big city antique store without the high prices. You may even find that perfect gift for that special someone who has everything or that someone who collects tea pots, cookbooks, area town memorabilia or antiques. They continue to bring in more items, including Red Wing Pottery that was produced in limited quantity for the Calmar Sesquicentennial.
They hope you stop in to check out their new place. Right now hours for the store are 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays).The store is a treasure for those looking for a special gift, especially without a general store in town. For you oldsters out there, Whistlestop may not quite be like the old television show “Petticoat Junction,” but it will bring back fond memories of Calmar in its glory years. I can almost hear the train whistle now.