I stepped into Arcadian Antiques in the Nickels Arcade to buy some exquisite Christmas tree ornaments on a recent morning and got to talking with the owner, Rhonda Gilpin. She opened her vintage jewelry and antique in 1983, and told me how she came to be in business. “There was a consignment shop that I frequented and thought was really cool. It was closing and I said to my family friend Jim Edwards, owner of Caravan Gift Shop, ‘I love that little store, I wish I could buy it.’ I went to the bank to get a loan but I was nineteen and they were like ‘Are you out of your mind?’ Jim said ‘I know you’ll be great at it so I’m going to loan you the money.’ So [Edwards] was kinda my bank.

“My mom also had a store up here and as I started to expand my businesses she got offered money for her lease. She said “What am I going to do?’ I said “Take the money for the lease and come work for me.’ She now runs the Main Street location, also an antique shop. I had children who all had little part time jobs with me through high school. My daughter Bailey is full time in the stores. My other two kids both have other occupations but they fill in at the holidays.” Now she watches her grandkids while her children work–“as a family we’ve been fortunate in that we haven’t had to use daycare,” she says.

The store is full of breakable items, and seems like could be a tricky place for a small child to navigate. But “I think you just get used to being around all of it,” Gilpin says. “It’s like a second home. We spend more time in the stores than in our house.”

Gilpin has second antique shop on S. Main St., and also owns the Caravan Gift Shop in the arcade. She bought it from Jim Edwards when he retired. “He didn’t want to see his store close because it was the oldest store in the Nickels Arcade, and after 95 years it has a pretty good following.”

The Caravan Shop has handmade works from the United States and around the world. “I have artists from every state in the country,” Gilpin says. “This year we are doing hand blown twisted glass ornaments that have been really successful, as well as handmade jewelry boxes”

But the pandemic has been hard.

“It’s particularly hard right now because professors and students aren’t around,” Gilpin says. “The office buildings are closed. There just aren’t people out and about.” She has gone to great lengths to ensure customer safety, adding private shopping by appointment, free local delivery, curbside pickup, and an online store. But it’s tough.

“We’re below half of what we normally would be,” she says, at all three stores. With Christmas just a week away, I usually have eight to ten customers at a time; now we have two to three. The online business has definitely helped, but if you’ve done one-on=one customer sales for thirty eight years, people come to the store to get that.

“We have a woman who comes with her daughter every Christmas Eve to shop at the store. It’s a tradition for them. They come downtown, have lunch, and she buys her daughter a beautiful piece of jewelry. Another customer comes on Midnight Madness every year and says ‘I don’t really like shopping but I’ll come to Midnight Madness with my wife and I love it.’

Thanks to the online store, “we have definitely picked up some new customers, and we have a huge mailing list. But nobody can guarantee shipping this year because it’s so backed up.”

Despite the challenges, Gilpin isn’t going anywhere. “I’m a fighter. I’ve been here a long time and have seen a lot of horrific things like 9/11, the housing crisis, and all that. We’re fighting for it. One way or another we’ll be open.”

Visit the Gilpin family shops at arcadianantiques.shop and thecaravangiftshop.com.