Proprietress Pauline Kelley won’t give up what she loves doing; she’ll just do what she wants when she wants.
In her 83rd year, living legend Eunice “Pauline” Kelley shocked Alamedans by announcing she was closing Pauline’s Antiques, her warren-like store on Park Street. With 7,000 square feet of merchandise spread across two tightly-packed floors, the store still looks full, even after two heavily discounted sales, with a third sale planned in the near future as part of Kelley’s retirement party. But it turns out Pauline isn’t exactly planning to quit what she loves doing, anytime soon — and neither, apparently, are the store’s trio of ghosts.
So, why are you closing the store?
When I first said I was getting ready to close down, they all thought I must be sick or dying, because they thought I’d never stop. But now I’m going to do everything I want to, when I want to. And I don’t want to work seven days a week anymore. But I will always do a little bit. I have thousands of paintings and first-edition books. I’m going to spend a lot of time sorting and marketing them. But I haven’t decided whether to sell or lease the building, and I’m not ready to go anywhere I don’t want to. So, I will still do an estate sale or a fair, just not seven days a week.
What inspired you to open an antique store?
When we were first married, my husband worked in construction, and in the winter, when it rained, he didn’t get work. So he did basement cleaning, hauling, and business liquidations, and he salvaged everything of value — oak tables, desks, cast-iron pots and pans, bronze vases, lamps and brass Russian gold pans. So, one day I said let’s sell some of this stuff.
Do you specialize in certain types of antiques?
I’m a sifter, and I’ll tell you right now, I handle everything. It could be a 50-cent or a $10,000 item — it doesn’t matter. I’ve got something for everybody. And if you have something of everything, you will always sell. So never belittle someone selling something for $10. That’s called spendable income. I bought this store 24 years ago, and it contains millions of items, everything under the sun. My friend calls it “Pauline’s haberdashery.” And I’m not known as a bag lady: I’m the truck lady with the bags, when I’m clearing stuff out. We do a lot of movie props, television props, and my one daughter dresses all the stars and makes them look muddier, bloodier, or whatever. I have a lot of kids [laughs]. I have five of my own and about 100 others. And I’ve been a member of the chamber of commerce for about 30 years.
What was Alameda like when you moved here in the 1940s?
I was 9 years old when we moved here from Arkansas. The [second world] war was still on, and everybody worked at the shipyard. My mother was a welder for a short period during the war, and she used to do all the welding on my husband’s car. We lived in a building where the main library is now. My father worked at City Hall and used to bring all the sailors home for dinner. It was just a very nice little town. Tucker’s was still on the corner, and the whole neighborhood would walk down Park Street to get an ice cream cone at Tucker’s and then onto Otis Drive, which would flood during high tides.
With all these antiques, is your store in any way haunted?
This building has three haunts: Virginia, Joan, and Ronnie. If something slips over and gets knocked, that’s Virginia. When people tell me they were helped by “a nice blonde lady downstairs,” that’s Joan. And Ronnie, I call him my sixth child; he worked for us for about 20 years and then he died. He had the best crossover I’ve ever seen in my life. His spirit is still here. I don’t think any of them are going anywhere. This building is their home. And this is a great building. My husband retrofitted it when it was still empty. Since then, people have called it the therapy joint — when you are feeling down and just need a lift, and someone happy to see you, come to Pauline’s.