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Recycling Treasures at the Old Barn Antiques Mall

All of the antiques that fill the 10,000 square-feet mall have escaped trips to our local landfills.

For decades, the "Three Rs" have survived as the mantra for green living. San Juan Capistrano residents can practice all three in the heart of downtown at the Old Barn Antique Mall. A must-visit on many San Juan day-trip itineraries, the Old Barn Antique Mall offers shoppers more than 10,000 square feet to find once-loved treasures and give them new leases on life. 

How, exactly, does antique shopping align with the "Three Rs" mantra?

Reduce: Every item that is resold at an antique shop has escaped a trip to the dump. Instead, the item retains value as a marketable product. This alleviates pressure on our landfills and makes antique hunters very, very happy. And, by extending the usable life of products—say, headboards, cast-iron pots or books—a comprehensive shift in market demand can also reduce the extraction of raw materials needed to create new versions of these products.

Reuse: Those with a keen eye and creative mind know that the items you purchase in an antique store can serve purposes beyond their original intent. Old postcards can become framable artwork, and old gates can be used as garden trellises.

Recycle: A common definition of recycling is "to use again in original form or with minimal alteration." According to this definition, anyone who purchases a previously used item and uses it again is recycling.

On a recent trip to the Old Barn, I had the opportunity to speak with staff members Barbara Murphy, Jody Demel and Dyane Magnuson. Barbara, a lover of Americana antiques, told me that most shoppers are coming in for pieces from the 1960s and '70s. Technically, she said, these are not really antiques, as the name "antique" is usually reserved for pieces that are more 100 years old.

"Still, the items from those times do have history, and it was a special time for California culture. Most of the items you'll find at the Old Barn come from Orange and San Diego counties, with many pieces coming out of Seal Beach," she said.

Although the shop works consistently with roughly 70 dealers, anyone can bring old items in to sell. And the result of so many sellers? A mix of pieces that spans over five rooms. Barbara told me the shop opened in 1983 as a single room. As time went on, the owners took over each additional room from shops that had closed, including a bakery and a mini-mall. The size of the Old Barn can be dizzying, so here are my personal recommendations for a shopping expedition there:

  • Don't go if you're in a rush! There is a lot to see in each room and, if you're in a hurry, you might miss something. 
  • If you have something in mind or a particular space in your home or yard you are looking to fill, be sure to bring proper measurements of the area, then, leave your tape measure at home; the Old Barn has several to lend you.
  • Find your favorite spaces. Within each room, items are divided into numbered spaces, usually arranged by dealer or theme. If you have a particular style, you can save time by choosing a few of your favorite numbers.

The Old Barn Antique Mall does not have a website, but you can count on it being open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Call 949-493-9144 for more information. The barn is at 31792 Camino Capistrano, next door to the Swallow's Inn. 

Linda Musel March 31, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Great article and glad to hear not everything is disposable anymore, but antiques with a history and a validity to still exist!
The Ecology Center April 06, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Thanks, Linda! I went back to pick up a few treasures last week. The Old Barn really is a gem in San Juan.

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