Closing up shop

Alicia Robinson

Linda Johnston is probably more fond of dolls than most adults. She

also likes tea sets, jewelry, furniture and quilts -- as long as

they're antiques.

But her love affair with relics, both venerable and obsolete, will

come to an end this fall when Johnston and her business partner Pat

Alsenz close Castle Antiques after 20 years in Costa Mesa. Johnston,

56, and her husband are thinking about retiring and plan to move to

Oregon in November, and Alsenz is ready to retire too, Johnston said.

Before she leaves, Johnston is hoping to sell the business, and

she'll have to get rid of a lot of stuff. Her East 18th Street store

is crammed with an orderly profusion of antique linens, lamps, sets

of china and chairs she's accumulated over the years. She even has an

oak sideboard from the early 1800s, the oldest item in the store,

with shelves to display dishes and bone insets on the drawers.

"I really like the items. I don't do it just for the money,"

Johnston said. "I actually like handling and having a look at

beautiful things, and they made beautiful things."

Castle Antiques' large volume of items is what attracted customer

Marion Hartwich. The Costa Mesa decorator has been shopping there for

about 10 years, and she often incorporates antiques in her design

work.

"[All that merchandise] makes it fun," she said. "It makes you

want to dig in the treasures and see what you find ... It's the fever

of the hunt."

It's no wonder the store is full. Johnston said she started

shopping flea markets when she was 16 and opened her first antique

store in Long Beach two days after she graduated from college.

The Costa Mesa business' name came from its earliest days, when

Johnston bought $140,000 worth of furniture from old Italian estates

to stock the store.

"That started us in the furniture [line]," she said. "We thought,

'It's going to look like a castle in here.'"

Customers like Hartwich are dismayed about the store's impending

closure, and they're not alone. Sandra Jo Hanke has worked at Castle

Antiques since 1992 and has loved her time there, she said.

Hanke was working at an antique shop in Coronado and decided to

check out Castle Antiques because Johnston was one of her customers.

"I came, I saw, and I stayed," Hanke said. "I would like to stay

in the same business, and I'm hoping that something comparable comes

along."

The store has been a success, but it's a tough market, because

people selling antiques want more money than they used to, Johnston

said.

"We have a good business here," she said. "It's getting harder to

find things, though, at a reasonable price.

A price Johnston couldn't pass up was the value of her home in the

Back Bay. When she and her husband saw their home's value triple in

the tight housing market, they knew they could buy a nice home in

Oregon for much less and bank the profit, Johnston said.

She won't leave antiques entirely behind. The dolls are her

favorite things in the store, and she'll continue restoring old dolls

in her new home, she said.

Castle Antiques is at 112 E. 18th St. in Costa Mesa.

* ALICIA ROBINSON covers business, politics and the environment.

She may be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail at

alicia.robinson@latimes.com.

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