An afternoon of antiquing in the Mon Valley

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The Mon Valley, the scenic area of Washington, Fayette, and Greene counties along the Monongahela River, is becoming well known for its enticing outdoor recreation — biking, hiking, boating, kayaking and fishing. But it also offers plenty of opportunities for a beloved indoor sport: shopping.

Clusters of antique stores and curiosity shops are located in towns along the river, selling everything from vintage bowling shirts to repurposed farming implements perfect for decorating a country kitchen. You’ll find furniture you remember from Thanksgiving at Grandma’s and toys you remember from Christmases gone by. Visit one of these shops on a Saturday afternoon and you may very well find an item you didn’t even know you needed.

Tim’s Secret Treasures in Charleroi

Unlike clicking through images on Amazon or falling in step with throngs of strangers at the mall, a trip to towns like Monongahela, New Eagle or Charleroi provides a relaxing and immersive experience, often starring a one-of-a-kind proprietor.

One such proprietor is Tim Bradburn. You’ll find his shop Tim’s Secret Treasures at 220 McKean Avenue in Charleroi. In fact, you won’t be able to miss it: It is the only spot in town flanked by a pair of giant roosters, a sizable steer, and a larger than life gorilla. And if you think the exterior of the store is a bit quirky, just wait till you go inside. Part museum, part fun house, it’s a unique experience.

The original building housing Tim’s was purchased by Bradburn and his wife, Rhonda Jaquay, about 10 years ago. Later, they bought the adjoining building and combined them into one large structure to hold their ever growing collections. Over the years, items from the shop — such as a World War II airplane propeller — have been used as props in Hollywood movies. Merchandise ranges from huge buffalo heads to Civil War uniforms, from porcelain dolls to vintage neon beer signs; all share space in the overflowing rooms of what was once a 19th century funeral home.

That deathly past — and rumors of the building being haunted — has led to visits from television’s Ghost Hunters and inspired a popular Halloween “Fright Fest” held every year. Attendees can purchase personal psychic readings performed in the cavernous upstairs rooms. Bradburn, who still works as a corporate accountant, and Jaquay donate all profits from the celebration to the Washington County food bank.

Main Street Antiques in Monongahela

“About 80 percent of my business comes from out of state,” says Bradburn. “Others are Pennsylvania travelers, and I do get some dealers as well. None of my inventory is on consignment, so I know the history of what I sell.”

You can also learn the history of the items sold by Bobby Gilotty of Main Street Antiques in Monongahela. Gilotty’s mother Inez opened her store over 25 years ago. Bobby is now the face of the business, greeting shoppers and answering questions about the merchandise and the shop. The 12-room Victorian house — purchased by Inez in 1991 — houses seven different antique dealers, each with their own section of eclectic merchandise. Many of the dealers have been there since it opened.

Main Street Antiques in Monongahela

“We are all like family,” says Gilotty, who credits the continued success of the business to the many events held in Monongahela throughout the year which bring out-of-towners to the business district.

Red Boot Antiques in Monongahela

In addition to the town’s Riverfest celebration, Community Days and popular Ghost Walk, Monongahela holds a twice yearly “Fleatique”: a 2.5-mile upscale yard sale featuring food vendors, crafters, entertainment, and participation by the area’s antique stores. Held on the first Saturday of June and October every year since 1999, the next Fleatique, sponsored by the Monongahela and New Eagle Chambers of Commerce, is scheduled for October 7, 2017, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information about events held throughout the Mon Valley can be found on the Mon River Towns Events Calendar.

Marcia Homa, proprietor of Red Boot Antiques just up the road at 905 W. Main, also takes part in the Fleatique. Homa has been in the antique business for over 12 years, and in her current location for eight. Twenty years ago, a former client — and shoe repairman — gave Homa a unique boot-shaped sign which she later used as inspiration for the name of her charming, well-kept shop. From a large collection of Longaberger baskets, vintage toys and games, to stunning 19th century farm tables, Homa has a little bit of everything. Asked about the strangest thing she ever sold, Homa recalls a “giant fire extinguisher” which she purchased mainly to draw interest from the street. Turns out, for one shopper, it was a must have. 

Red Boot Antiques in Monongahela

The Mon Valley is an easy drive from Pittsburgh — simply follow Route 88 South or, for a faster trip, hit the Route 43 Turnpike extender and take Exit 39 for Charleroi/Donora. The road splits as you enter Charleroi, so follow signs for the Business District. The town retains its industrial feel. In fact, manufacturing remains active; one example is Channelcraft, a large manufacturer of authentic, non-electronic American toys, games and puzzles. Head to McKean Avenue, Charleroi’s primary business corridor, and soon you will see the roosters of Tim’s Secret Treasures on your right.

Queen Anne’s Lace in New Eagle

When you have finished exploring Tim’s, continue north on McKean toward Monongahela, a straight shot of about 5.5 miles on Route 88. Follow West Main through town and you will reach Main Street Antiques on your left, followed by Red Boot Antiques on your right. Go a little further and you will enter the small neighboring town of New Eagle. Yesterday’s Best, an antique and consignment shop, and Queen Anne’s Lace, which carries antique and vintage home décor, are almost directly across the street from each other on Main Street.

If you want to get a little new to mix in with your old, you can slow down a bit in downtown Monongahela. Stop in at CJ’s Furniture at 142 W. Main Street, which offers new and contemporary furniture in an impressive older building, complete with tiled entry and a restored tin ceiling. Just a few doors down at 168 W. Main Street is newly opened boutique Uncommonly Bella, which carries one-of-a-kind vintage clothing, handmade soaps, unique gifts, and outfits for children.

Of course, after a hard day of shopping, you need to refuel. The Twist, located at 207 Main Street in New Eagle, is an old fashioned ice cream parlor and café that has been in business since 1957. They serve a breakfast and lunch menu (many dishes are topped with local favorite Cinco de Mayo Salsa) along with cold, creamy treats.

The Twist in New Eagle

Along with their unique and quirky merchandise, some of these shops and eateries have quirky hours of operation. Not all locations are open Sunday, most are closed Monday, and some do not have Tuesday hours either. A few have hours that change with the seasons. Check out their Facebook pages for hours and contact information. Saturday is the safest bet to visit to find all spots open. And who would want to miss a single one?

WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

Images by Wendy Duchene.

This story was created in partnership with the Mon River Towns Program | www.monrivertowns.com

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Arts & Culture, Explore PA, PA Towns, Reuse/Rebuild, Travel