Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

January 3, 2006 > Spring is (already) in the air

Spring is (already) in the air

by Tina Cuccia

The season is already changing from winter to spring in the window of "Keith's Collectibles" located in the antique collective shop "Bite & Browse" on Niles Blvd. Keith Elrod, owner of Keith's Collectibles and originally from Alabama says once the grass on the hills of Niles turns green, it's a sign that spring is here even though January is just beginning.

So before he rang in the New Year last week, Christmas decorations in the antique store were on their way out as Elrod began dreaming up springtime themes for the window display to include such items as Bermuda shorts, sun glasses and a hat to shade the sun.

Being from the South, one thing Elrod says he misses is the rain. "To me, what I miss about the South is the rain because it brings green.". The hills of Niles are right outside the window of Bite & Browse and while much of the year those hills are, well, not green; Elrod prefers to see green around the white Niles sign.

Elrod is one of approximately 30 dealers who are selling their wares in Bite & Browse. The antique store, which will be 24 years old in June, began as a sandwich and antique shop founded by Will and Beverly Wredberg and Joan Doughty in 1982. Customers would come by and browse the aisles for antiques while at the same time, grab a sandwich for lunch. The Wredbergs had decided to open the shop as a "collective" instead of their own personal antique shop so the chore of running the store could be shared among its tenants and thus reducing the cost of doing business.

And they couldn't have selected a better location. The Niles District is a haven for those who love to shop for antiques. It is home to 40 antique shops, all within a four-block area.

In 1990, the shop was destroyed by a fire and the owners were forced to move it to a new location where it exists today. While they are not equipped to offer sandwiches at the new location, they still provide something for their customers to snack on while they shop. Cookies or desserts and coffee are always waiting for everyone who walks through the door of the shop.

Elrod has been a dealer at Bite & Browse for almost two years. He says some of the other dealers have been at the store for 20 years. Another is joining this month, so it's a combination of old and new that keeps the total inventory of the shop varied and fresh.

When he first joined the collective, Elrod began with just a six-by-six foot glass case filled with an array of western antiques, which he says is his love. His collection included Black Memorabilia from the 1920s and 50s, farm items such as miniature and collectable farm tractors and equipment, plastic and porcelain horses, belt buckles and Hot Wheels. But he quickly realized that expanding his line would increase his customer base, so he moved into a larger 10-by10 foot space by the window and brought in new items.

"In collectives, if you specialize, in one thing, you are limiting yourself," Elrod says. "The more variety you have, the more you sell."

Today Elrod's collection has expanded to include the same type of items he originally carried as well a collection of local soft-back history books from all over the United States published by Arcadia Publishing that feature areas like Niles, Fremont, early Hayward, San Francisco and many others.

Elrod remembers a time when a customer asked for one of the books on Niles -- which he had -- and she was surprised to see, when she began to flip through the pages of the book, a photo of herself. "That's why people like them, because they [the local citizens] are the local history of where they grew up," he says.

"There are 260 books written on California alone and I carry over 150 of those titles myself," he said. He also carries the books that cover Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts and he takes requests for all U.S. states. The books span periods of time and particular topics such as Route 66, Ford, boxing in San Francisco and baseball in San Diego.

"If there's not a book written about it, I can contact Arcadia [Publishing] and let them know there is a customer base out there," he says. "Then they work with local museums and historical societies to write a book." Each book is only 128 pages. They cost $19.99. Elrod says the books are one of this more popular items and he finds that his customers often buy them as gifts for others.

Elrod's collection of collectibles includes salt and pepper shakers, Charlie Chaplin art and novelties, China, original works by artists Ed Frakes and Donna Sanson and CDs by Niles Troubadour Michael McNevin. He also carries the very collectible glass insulators (formerly used on telephone and electrical power lines), cookie jars, lunchboxes, candle stick holders, toys, Elvis items, record albums and cups and saucers, and much more.

"People collect all different ones [cups and saucers] to use for tea," Elrod said. "The more unique and different they are the better," he said pointing to a cup that had flowers painted on the inside of the cup as well as the outside. He says it's hard to find full sets since they are fragile and get broken, and often owners will give cups and saucers away as gifts breaking up a complete set.

Elrod says he finds much of his inventory from attending other antique stores, estate sales and browsing craigslist online. He notes that he has always been a collector, even when he lived in Alabama where he attended many flea markets. Elrod moved to California eight years ago, prompted by a company transfer. Since then, he changed jobs and today, in addition to managing his store, he works at Sun Microsystems as a material program manager.

Family in Alabama includes four horses, two of which, "Pat" and "Dixie" are featured in his store's logo. He says he visits back home about four times a year mixing pleasure with some work. And as a fan of the PBS's "Antique Roadshow," Elrod says, sure, he has a few items that he'd love to take on the show to get priced, "Because you never know," he says.

In addition to holding two jobs, Elrod is an avid support of the Niles District and is responsible for coining the phrase about Niles being the "Best kept secret in Fremont." He serves as vice president of the Niles Main Street Association and is a board member of the Niles Merchants Association. In addition, he is a lifetime member of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and a member of the Niles Canyon Railway.

While you may think he hardly has time for anything else, the Niles Crest resident believes an active role is important because as he puts it, "As a businessman in Niles, it is very important to support Niles." The Bite & Browse invites customers and "browsers" to visit every day of the week.

Bite & Browse
39765 Niles Blvd, Fremont
(510) 796-4537
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sunday: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
Collectibles, books, glassware, jewelry, linens, toys, primitives, furniture, country items, picture frames and much more!

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