Iowa City’s antique store provides unique glimpse at history for students

Artifacts antique store holds a variety of items from throughout history. Located in the heart of downtown Iowa City, the shop attracts University of Iowa students and community members alike.


Larry Phan

The antique store Artifacts is seen on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Mark Fortunato, Arts Reporter

Artifacts antique store holds time capsules on its shelves, where generations of people and time can be held in the palm of a person’s hand.

Walking in the front door of Artifacts is like traveling through a time portal. One side of the store might hold cameras the size of books, while glass cases across the room display signed Johnny Cash memorabilia. Sucked in any further, and a plethora of oddities await.

Shining accordions, rusty wagon wheels, and art deco furniture — you can walk around the store 10 times and notice something different with every round.

The store, located at 331 E. Market St., has been around since 1995. Originally opened as an art gallery, people would occasionally bring in miscellaneous items. Over time, store owner Todd Thelen said, more and more antiques trickled in, eventually becoming a flood of old, vintage heirlooms that caused business to boom. The store ended up expanding due to all the activity.

The store was sold to Thelen in 2003. The antique collector said that because the store is so close in proximity to the University of Iowa campus — only two blocks West of Van Allen — students are a huge part of the store, and make up around 50 percent of all its customers.

The store attracts curious students, Thelen said. While some students come to simply look around, others have a set idea of what they want.

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Thelen says that the store’s clothing section has always been a big draw for young students. Having grown up in the 90s, he said he finds it interesting that an entirely different generation of students is interested in things from 30 years ago or more.

“Antiques go through phases,” Thelen said. “I have watched entire generations grow up, and it’s great.”

Artifacts has had an impact on students by providing a welcoming environment to explore and get lost in long lines of history, Thelen said.

Thelen said he’s gotten to know a lot of his customers since assuming ownership of the shop.

“I have watched so many students come here, and we now sell to their kids. We have been here long enough to do that,” he said.

Each individual item has a story to tell, Thelen said. There is always a reason why there might be a small dent in a guitar, or a piece missing from a book. Wondering who or what caused an item to become the way it is, he said, is just part of the excitement.

Steven Squires has worked at Artifacts longer than any other employee. He explains that there are lots of customers that walk through the door, not knowing what to find. However, with such a vast number of antiques, they can discover new things, and even start collections based on their finds.

“Young students are so invested in older antiques,” Squires said. “I think a big part of it is the fact that it’s all here, it’s all kind of on display, and you can touch it. I think a lot of students come in not knowing what to expect, and maybe kind of discover their interests that way.”

Squires said the store offers a new activity to do on the weekends. He said students often go in and don’t buy anything, but simply look around. Each section of the store holds hundreds of random items — it would take countless hours to sift through it all.

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