Generations proves antiques biz is a labor of love

Shiny plates, sparkling jewelry, faded pictures and polished wooden furniture are not the most noticeable objects in Generations Antiques, the local La Verne antique store on D Street.  The average customer is more likely to be welcomed by Betty Kalousek, the store owner.  Her friendly smile and cheerful “hello” make the shopper feel right at home.  With her daughter Carrie Leeper, Kalousek has been operating Generations since 1995.

Kalousek came to La Verne in 1960 and after she was married, her husband Verne helped her to start her business.  Before she opened Generations in La Verne, Kalousek had previously owned shops in Glendora and San Dimas.

“I was in Glendora for 13 years before I came to La Verne, but I also had a space in San Dimas for seven,” Kalousek said.

Kalousek’s father-in-law built the building that houses Generations Antiques in 1937, but although Kalousek owned it, she was not able to come to La Verne until much later.

“I always wanted to be here, but the person who was here had been here 20 years,” Kalousek said.  “When the gentleman passed away I was able to open my own store.”

“It was quite a jump to get things here, I remember we had 210 file boxes filled,” she added.

Generations has a variety of items for sale, but it specializes in jewelry.  Kalousek estimates her income from the store and jewelry to be about $100,000 annually.  She is quick to point out that the antique business is not all fun though.

“People think that antique stores are a lucrative business,” Kalousek said.  “It’s not.  It’s really a labor of love.”

“People have the strange idea that we don’t pay much for our antiques but we do.  I pay and I pay well,” she added.

Although most of the items in Generations are priced at the same price Kalousek originally paid for them, the store makes money off its fair pricing and loyal customers.  Generations also sells some expensive rare finds, but overall it is affordable and original.  Kalousek said she tries to get the best deal so that she can in turn sell each item at a low price.

“I try to buy right so we can sell at a fair price,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting good merchandise to sell, but I’ve been in business so long people know I buy and pay fairly.”

Kalousek has also used her business savvy to sell at flea markets and estate sales.  She said her philosophy is to work very hard and to keep trying.

“I just plug away daily and hang in there.  That’s my motto.”

When asked about competitors, Kalousek smiled.

 “There are no competitors in the antique business because all the merchandise is different,” she said.  “Your shop is better off if there are other stores in the same area.”

Another store in the area is Ken’s Olden Oddities, a large, mostly furniture oriented antique store on White Avenue.  Kalousek said she does not mind sending customers away if it means they will find what they are searching for.

“I will send people over to Ken, and he will send people over here,” she said.  “I am fortunate that there really aren’t any other antique jewelry stores here, but even if there were, people would still stop to see what else I have.”

Kalousek said it is the customer she values most and their experience at Generations.

“I don’t mind giving customers a bargain when I can tell they will appreciate it,” she said.

Brian McNerney, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the La Verne Chamber of Commerce, said it is Kalousek’s generous nature that has made her store a success.

“Betty has a good business because she has done a lot, McNerney said.   “It’s unbelievable.”

McNerney explains Kalousek’s involvement in the community as the main reason people like her and visit her store so often.  She has been an active member in the community and an Old Town La Verne Business Improvement District association board member for many years.  McNerney also credits Kalousek’s generous donations to multiple yearly events as part of the reason she is so beloved by the La Verne community.

“People like to buy from people they like,” he said.  “When you go out and are active in the community, like Betty, it lets people know you’re there and you care.”

“She knows her business,” he added.

Generations is flanked by two completely different businesses.  On one side is T. Phillips, an eatery and bar, and on the other side is Miss Donuts and Bagel, a bakery shop.  The stores only have positive things to say about Generations, despite the contrasts in products.

Tony Spencer, the owner of T. Phillips for seven years, said Generations is a quiet neighbor that adds its own flavor to the downtown area.

“The ladies at Generations are nice, very friendly,” Spencer said.  “People checking out their store often come into ours too.  The variety of downtown La Verne is good for everyone’s business.”

Pahlla Chea, a 20-year-old cashier at Miss Donuts and Bagel, agrees with Spencer about the local La Verne stores.

“Ms. Kalousek is quiet, we don’t talk much with her,” Chea said.  “But people browsing the area see her store and they see ours and they’ll come in and have a donut.  It’s good for our business to have so many different shops around.”

Candice Langham, a University of La Verne student, is one of many browsing customers.  From Temecula, Langham has lived in La Verne the last three years.  She has often walked down D Street, noting the stores and how each one is different.  She said Generations always catches her eye for multiple reasons.

“It always looks so inviting.  It’s colorful and decorated for the season,” Langham said.  “When I go inside I’m always surprised.  The owner is so hospitable.”

“She greets everyone. ‘Welcome, how are you, can I help you.’  It makes you feel good,” Langham added.

Langham said she does not often shop at antique stores, but Generations always has something she likes.

“I only shop at antique stores for special occasions, I don’t usually just walk into one,” Langham said.  “I was looking more for dishes and pitchers today but even though I didn’t find one I liked, I still found a really cute pair of earrings.”

“The store has a very good selection of real jewelry.  It’s not just costume jewelry, there’s a lot to choose from,” Langham added.

Langham said she can tell that the personality of the shop and its owner is what has kept the store in business for so long.

“It’s so rare to see people own their shop,” Langham said.  “I was in the store for about an hour and I could tell that the great customer service is what really gets people.  It got me.”

“Here in La Verne you see more of a community feel, especially down on D Street,” she added.

McNerney said it is this community feeling that puts La Verne on the map, making it easier for smaller, mom-and-pop type shops to stay open.

“The flavor of La Verne is in these small stores,” he said.  “It’s the one-on-one service that keeps Generations doing well.”

“Antique stores like Betty’s are doing well in the business world today because people like to relate to how things were.  Betty has built up her reputation as someone who knows her antiques and her customers,” McNerney added.

Kalousek really has come to know both.  Almost always in the store, she spends a lot of time with her antiques, but also spends time with her customers.  She knows not only what kind of antiques they prefer, but their families, their personalities and their lives.  She has become a guide for those seeking treasure and a friend for those seeking advice.  Kalousek has come to see all of this as her role in being a La Verne store owner.

“If someone wanted to start their own antique store I’d tell them don’t,” she said with a laugh.  “If they are ready they can do it, but it’s quite a bit of work.”

“The benefits are to be surrounded by beautiful objects and people in your workplace.  It will be hard, but you will enjoy your work,” she added.

Lilia Cabello can be reached at lcabello@ulv.edu.

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