A Publication of WTVP

One of a Kind

Urban Artifacts specializes in 20th century antiques and vintage goods from the 1930s through the 1980s.

by Peoria Magazine |
Co-owners Angie & Jon Walker

*Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most retailers to close their doors, making a tough industry even more difficult. When we emerge from this crisis, local retailers will face all of the same challenges… and then some. Now more than ever, we must support them by shopping local.

Check out the rest of this series: “Exploring the Retail Landscape,” in the April 2020 issue of Peoria Magazine.

Situated inside a renovated warehouse building in Peoria, Urban Artifacts specializes in 20th century antiques and vintage goods from the 1930s through the 1980s. With a continuous stream of local, exclusive and uncommon items, you never know what you might find.

What is your biggest challenge as a retailer in 2020?
Staying fresh and relevant, and to continue attracting young and new shoppers. Keeping product in stock that you can’t buy on Amazon.

What strategies do you employ to mitigate any downsides from the internet?
Since most of our products are one-of-a-kind used items, we don’t have quite the same challenges as many retailers, but we do have competition from others selling used online. We do some online selling through social media, Craigslist and eBay. We also feel that people still like to shop specialty retailers in person. They like to touch and feel items in person. We try to create an experience with our unique inventory, and use special events such as First Fridays and Small Business Saturday to get people in the door. Special guest pop-ups also help draw traffic.  

Have you seen a sustained impact from recent Shop Local campaigns?
Yes, people seem to have really embraced the whole Shop Local mentality. Let’s hope it continues. 

What other trends are you seeing in retail?
It’s all about creating a fun experience for the shopper. Give them things the online retailer can’t! 

Where do you find the one-of-a-kind items for your business? 
We find our inventory through many means: garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, auctions, specialty antique shows, online sites like eBay and Craigslist, social media, word of mouth, drop-ins at the shop, and personal house calls to look at items. Rarely do I make cold calls looking for stuff, but sometimes I will go on tips or leads to track down merchandise. 

Are there any items in particular that have an interesting story behind them? 
As a collector of antique advertising signs, I am always on the hunt for undiscovered signs. A few years ago I saw a large neon sign that was supposed to be in an auction in Danville, Illinois. At some point the sign was pulled from the sale and disappeared. The mystery sign was a full-size Burger Chef Hamburgers animated neon sign with chaser lights. It was made around 1960 in Joliet and is from one of the last Burger Chef restaurants in the nation. The sign was removed from the former restaurant and put into a private storage facility where it sat for nearly 40 years. 

After the auction, I lost track of it for the next four years until I was finally able to find the owner. I made a deal to purchase and bring it to our building in Peoria, where it is on display. It is over 12 feet tall—there was only one area in the building with a ceiling high enough to display it! The Burger Chef sign is probably the largest single item we have had at Urban Artifacts. PM