victorias attic

Epic Ephemera

At some point, everyone — even Johnny Depp — stops at Victoria’s Attic Antique Mall to browse her array of collectibles.

Ellen Bluestein Current Digital, Shopping

victorias attic
A new item to the shop is this desk used by author Herman Wouk to write some of his best sellers, like The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY COLBY TARSITANO

Victoria Routh’s love for collectibles began as a child when her family would travel from Michigan to California to visit her grandparents. Along the way they would stop at homes where the owners would advertise – by posting a sign on their lawn – that they had heirlooms inside to sell.

“My mother would always say, ‘Look, don’t touch,’” Routh recalls, laughing. And so, over many years and many miles, Routh cultivated an appreciation for other people’s things.

Routh’s early forays paid off. She and her husband John now own Victoria’s Attic Antique Mall in Rancho Mirage and a smaller space in Palm Springs. Occupying more than 16,000 square and hosting about 65 vendors, the mall, located in The Atrium on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, features collectibles from the late 1800s to today.

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There’s “Victoria’s China Closet” with complete sets of formal dinnerware from manufacturers like Limoges, Noritake, and Homer Laughlin; a nautical–themed room with replica ships, maps, and miniature lighthouses; a used-book library; and a man cave replete with vintage license plates, classic car owners manuals, manual typewriters, and even the bicycle Routh’s father used to deliver Western Union telegrams in the 1940s.

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Victoria Routh got hooked on collecting things at an early age.

In between the specialty rooms, booths and showcases burst with ephemera: decorative glassware, sports memorabilia, Hawaiiana (think tiki), midcentury modern tableware, record albums, original art, costume jewelry, and barware — lots of barware — line the shelves and stalls. A separate space across the hall — more than 1,000 square feet — is dedicated solely to furniture.

“I love antiques because it’s our history,” Routh says. “ I love when people come in and purchase something that their mother or grandmother had or used — be it a cut glass bowl or a favorite china set. People will pick up old tools or car parts that belonged to their dad. They are re-buying their childhood.”

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The man cave; complete with the bicycle that Victoria Routh’s father used to deliver Western Union telegrams in the 1940s.

Her vendors are equally enthusiastic. Their displays are artfully arranged and meticulously maintained. Each has a particular passion. While Routh’s is California utility ware, there’s also French pottery from the 1920s, Depression glass from the 1930s, and tin toys from the 1950s. Mr. Peanut? He’s here. Felix the Cat? He’s here too along with Bob’s Big Boy, Barbie, and Batman. There’s kitsch galore including a copy of Five-Star Favorites: Recipes from Friends of Mamie and Ike signed by the former first lady. “I love my vendors,” Routh says, “They work so hard to keep our store interesting and merchandised.”

Routh loves her customers, too; many of who return year after year and feel like old friends. She has also waited on a few famous faces: Johnny Depp came in the store and bought a tray (she still has the $50 bill he used to pay for it); Drew Barrymore bought a large bar globe and gave her husband John a big hug; and Diane Keaton stopped by a few months ago.

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Look up and you’ll see vintage light fixtures.  Look down and you’ll discover animal statues. From floor to ceiling, you’ll find everything from banks to bibles, vases to vinyl, and ceramics to settees. Want to add to your Hakata doll collection?  Routh has over 300.  Searching for that special mid-mod housewarming gift? Pick up a piece of Holt Howard.  Need that perfect muumuu for vacation? Check out the “caftan of the week.”

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Classic spaceship banks from the 1950s.

Routh is deeply committed to fostering community among vendors, sellers, and collectors. And despite the popularity of online antique retailers, she remains optimistic.  “On eBay you can’t touch and feel,” she says. “There are still people who love the hunt. It’s fun when they find something they’ve been looking for forever.”

Victoria’s Attic Antique Mall , 69930 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 760-202-4500; victoriasatticantiquemall.com. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

GALLERY: View some of the items at Victoria’s Attic Antique Mall in Rancho Mirage.