Business

Saturday, Mar 30 2013 04:00 PM

Shop closing the end of an era

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    China and a cabinet displayed in one of the packed rooms at Nancy Hall's Fond Memories on H Street.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Elegant crystal is just one of the many items being offered at the Fond Memories going-out-of-business sale.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nancy Hall, seen here with her husband, Don, is closing Fond Memories, her gifts and antiques store on H Street.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nancy Hall's Fond Memories always had a wide selection of gifts and antiques.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nancy Hall, left, with Lee Anne Martin, former owner of the Country Rose Tea Room, which has since closed.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

For nearly two decades, one of the most genteel ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in Bakersfield was to stroll a charming little shopping district on the tree-lined edge of downtown called the H Street Walk.

Mothers and daughters would celebrate special occasions at the Country Rose Tea Room, then tour the old homes made into cottage shops showcasing antiques, gifts and home decor.

But some of the rustic boutiques have faded over time. Next weekend, the oldest and perhaps best known of them, Fond Memories, is having a going out of business sale.

It follows a dozen or so shops that have closed or moved from the area over the last decade in the face of economic and cultural changes, as well the city's own expansion.

"The way Bakersfield grew, (the shopping district) just couldn't go on anymore," said Lee Anne Martin, the original owner of the Country Rose, which opened in 1989 and closed last year. She is working on a book of the restaurant's recipes and assorted nostalgia.

Cindy Hayes misses eating and shopping in the area. She remembers a special, personal ambience to H Street.

"I think the walking into those old homes, it just gives you, I don't know, a feeling of your hometown, I guess," the Centennial High staff member said.

Fond Memories owner Nancy Hall has good reasons for closing the business. She is 80 years old and anxious to dedicate more time to her ailing daughter. She has no room at home for the store's inventory, as her husband, Don, will attest.

Everything is to be sold at half off Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this coming week.

Her ivy-covered shop, built as a home in 1923, is bedecked room to room with a high-end collection ranging from antique furniture and Italian dinnerware to French soaps and crystal stemware. Out back, a leafy patio leads to a showroom, formerly a garage, where a bed outfitted in fine linen is delicately overhung with twigs -- touches not seen in chain stores.

Hall's friends and customers are sorry to see it all go.

"She had such good taste and it was just fun to go in there and visit with her and see what items she had in," said friend and customer Barbara Grimm-Marshall.

Diane Lake, a Bakersfield friend since first grade who used to travel with Hall to shop for antiques in New York, stopped into the shop regularly to check out new items.

"It was a fun thing to do on Saturday afternoon because she always had something interesting," she said. "It always gave me a lift."

An inviting scene spread over more than a block on each side of H north of Brundage Lane. Easy freeway access drew customers from Fresno, Los Angeles and beyond.

As neighboring merchant Roger Upton recalled, shoppers were after the English country manor look: teacups and lace, a bed and breakfast feel.

He was the primary force behind Renaissance, a two-story co-op where people rented space to sell home decor. They partnered with other shops to put on annual events -- May Days with maypoles, Christmases with carolers and warm cider.

"It was a big deal," he said. "People came."

Change arrived from many directions. The surrounding neighborhood gradually became rougher; vandalism encroached.

Style changed as well. Modern and French influences came. The younger generation didn't want what it saw as "grandma stuff," Upton said.

Meanwhile, suburban Bakersfield was expanding to the northwest and southwest. Shoppers embraced strip malls and chain stores. Antique dealers moved closer to the core of downtown.

When the Great Recession hit, furniture and home decor stores had a particularly tough time as home sales plummeted and discretionary spending all but dried up. Shops closed not only on H Street but across the city.

These days, some of the H Street homes are vacant. Not far away, professional offices and salons bring foot traffic -- and so do a few boutiques. One is Fond Memories' next door neighbor, Into the Forest.

Owner Shirley Valov carries on the H Street tradition with a country-flavored mix of moderately priced home items. It has an outdoor area with repurposed items such as weathered wooden doors reimagined as garden accents.

Customer Kay Henry found an old porch glider there that was rusted and beat up.

"It was a joint effort with my family to refurbish it for my sister's 50th birthday," she wrote in an email. "It's beautiful!"

Valov said she loves her place on H Street.

"I don't want to up and relocate because, I don't know, there's just something about the house," she said.

Although she's sad so many shop owners left, Valov said she's hopeful the street will maintain its special place in Bakersfield tradition.

"In a way," she said, "it's still here."

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