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Janesville antiques store Mantiques is all about guys

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Marcia Nelesen
July 7, 2013
“My wife says, 'You have the biggest man cave around, and you get to play King of the Dorks.'”

—Jason Allen, owner of Mantiques

JANESVILLE—Jason Allen doesn't really go to work.

He just hangs out in his big ol' man cave, surrounded by the toys of his youth and some really weird stuff.

The 1600-square-foot shop at 111 W. Milwaukee St. is crammed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars action figures, comic books, sports cards, old train sets, vintage bar paraphernalia, Tonka trucks, vinyl records, advertising signs, Universal horror monsters and carnival mirrors.

A promotional banner from the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy hangs overhead.

“Someday, someone will want that,” Allen said.

Allen, 32, of Beloit opened Mantiques on May 1.

Soon after, Nicholas White, Janesville, stopped by to trade 300 comic books for a Snake Eyes action figure from the G.I. Joe collection. White apparently never left, and he now works at the store.

Allen figures even if he fired White, he'd come back anyway.

After work, the pair sometimes chill and organize toys.

“My wife says, 'You have the biggest man cave around, and you get to play King of the Dorks,'” Allen said.

Allen has “stuff” in his blood.

When he was younger, he hung out with his grandpa—a man who lived during The Great Depression and was compelled to save everything. Allen sold items at flea markets with one of his aunts, setting up his own table with comics and sports cards.

After Allen went to work in restaurants, he occasionally sold at flea markets or ran booths in antiques malls. But he tired of the long hours spent working for someone else, and he was running out of room to store his own collection—much of which now stocks his store.

“There was no point in opening a shop and having the good stuff at home and then, in a year, (wonder) when my business fails,” he said.

Allen rarely has seller's remorse.

“People are so excited, they're going to put it in their collection and treasure it in a way I can't because I have so much stuff,” he said.

“Eventually, you learn you will always find it again, unless it is truly one of a kind thing. I need to sell this stuff so I can go out and find new stuff.”

Allen had the Mantiques store name tucked away in his brain for several years. One recent day it worked, luring two women from Beloit who had driven past several times.

Valerie Moore said she'd be back.

“I like eclectic, and this store screams eclectic,” she said.

That morning, Allen was wearing a worn Marvel Comics Super Heroes T-shirt and a black Jagermeister hat—no surprises here.

Father's Day helped him attract customers. His store broke even in May and made money in June.

While 80s toys and records are Allen's biggest sellers, he never presumes to guess what someone will buy.

Allen's personal favorites are anything strange, old, bizarre or a combination of the above.

“That thing we've never seen or never knew existed,” he said.

Like the bizarre wooden bean bag game painted with the face of a demented clown, or the tiny Mike Tyson figure with rubber suction cups—pre-face tattoo, ear biting and prison.

“That is soooo weird,” Allen said almost reverently.

Allen watches stuff gain and then wane in popularity. He's keeping a tote of Power Rangers stuff tucked away until they become more coveted.

“Guys like to collect toys because it brings them back to being kids, before bills and all the insanity of life,” he said. “They look at that toy and think of playing in the sandbox. That was the life.”

The store has become a gathering place for men of all ages with similar interests.

A vintage stool is marked for sale, but more often than not it's pulled up to the counter, and someone is lingering to talk about this graphic novel TV series or that action figure.

Allen and White knowingly smile at each other when they tell the story of one customer who first came in with his wife.

“The next time he comes in, he has no wife and buys a bunch of stuff. And now, we haven't seen him for three weeks,” Allen said. “He probably got himself in trouble.”

“He got junk drunk,” the other said.

“He'll be back. We understand how it is,” another one said.

Allen plans to stage special events for regulars, showing old Star Wars videos or staging a Nintendo gaming night.

Not everything in Allen's shop appeals strictly to testosterone. There's a couple vintage purses up front in view of the window, and other items include a Hoosier Cabinet and cast-iron roaster. Shoved in a back corner are vintage dolls such as Rainbow Bright and My Little Pony.

Despite the nod to womanly fare, this store is all about the guys.

Take the 12-packs of seven-ounce Pabst glass bottles stacked in a corner. Someone could, for example, turn them into salt and pepper shakers, Allen said, his eyes lighting up.

“I walked up to an estate sale, and there was a box of these and I said, 'Nice,'” Allen recalled.

The women running the sale said, “Really?”

“I'll take them all,” Allen told her.



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