A century of journeys found in Omaha's Back In The Day antiques shop.
Anthony Chambers has found millions of items for his antique and collectibles store. The South Omaha store Back In The Day takes customers on a fascinating nostalgic tour, with thousands of vinyl albums and records, funky fashion and an amazing array of odd artifacts.
(This story originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)
WHEN THE DOOR opens at this South Omaha store at 2561 Leavenworth St., it seems like a million other doors open inside to a million other worlds. Actually, 2.5 million would be accurate because that’s the amount of stuff here, and it’s all artfully displayed – from the magnificent to the macabre – in this fascinating antique and collectibles store called Back In The Day.
“Every day is like Christmas and you never know what you’re going to find,” said Anthony Chambers, the store’s dynamic owner.
“All this stuff is the largest form of recycling in the world,” said Chambers, who also revealed he has another 6.5 million items stashed away in five warehouses.
The experience takes customers on a nostalgic journey with different period music playing on each of the store’s three floors. There’s vintage furniture, historic memorabilia, original Buck Rogers ray guns, a vinyl acre of albums and 45s from an array of musical genres, and so many racks of 1970s funk fashion that you’d almost expect to see a disco ball dropping.
Chambers’ partner in the business, Eric Vana, admits the store also takes a few twisted turns. Recently, they displayed a big collection of old caskets and embalming tables. “Most of that was sold in the first week,” said Vana, who has provided a lot of the store’s eclectic artwork and sculptures. “We specialize in oddities.”
“I don’t think anything is strange,” said Chambers, who has sold chrome-plated Nazi parade helmets. “It’s part of our history that we can’t forget. You gotta know where you came from to know where you’re going.”
The Omaha native has been obsessed with history since he was a child listening to stories in the barber shop from his uncle, Ernie Chambers. Soon that uncle would be buzz-cutting fellow legislators as North Omaha’s legendary political firebrand, and the young Chambers joined his grandmother’s trips to antique shops. He eventually filled the family garage with his own collection.
These days, massive estate sales have expanded the collection so vast that Chambers might have to add some more days to his catchy business name. A tour about the recently expanded Back In The Day can lead to lamps designed like bowling balls or owls, a maple ash tray, coasters and bookends carved from stone, and a handmade puppet used in Balinese spiritual ceremonies.
Vana said the biggest attraction at the store is the charm and style his partner offers every customer, whether it’s a local kid just looking for a DVD, or costume designers for Alexander Payne’s new Nebraska flick.
“We want customers walking out of here knowing they got a great deal,” Chambers said. “We don’t want it to be a question mark hanging over their heads; we want it to be an exclamation point.”
Perhaps the most intriguing story inside this shop is that of Chambers himself. His ancestry is a collage of African-American, French, Chinese and Native American roots, and Chambers once toured with a group of musical impersonators, performing as Morris Day, the nemesis of Prince in the Purple Rain film. Chambers retired at the remarkably ancient age of 47 from the rough rides of BMX racing, bouncing about the nation in daredevil biking competitions. Although he is turning 50, Chambers looks like he could still be carded at many Omaha establishments.
“When you really like what you’re doing, you age slower,” said Chambers, who runs his store seven days a week. “I love history and I love to share it with other people.”
Perhaps he’s found the fountain of youth in all his treasure hunts?