Tom Ross: H&M extra long on service

Unique Shop offers selection of yardsticks, thank goodness

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Do you recall the good old days when free yardsticks were commonplace? There used to be a time when any trip to the lumberyard was rewarded with a yardstick. When I was growing up, we always had a couple in the broom closet. Not anymore. Until recently, the closest thing I owned to a yardstick was a metal ruler. It's not the same thing. I got reacquainted with yardsticks last week during a visit to the Unique Shop at 116 Ninth St. in downtown Steamboat Springs. Just in case you aren't already familiar with the Unique Shop, it is a senior citizens cooperative and a purveyor of "fine junk," as Betty Leipold likes to say. I purchased the finest yardstick in inventory at the Unique Shop on Wednesday. I paid $2 for a real beauty emblazoned with the advertising slogan of H&M Equipment in Hastings, Neb. But more about that later.

My real purpose is to invite you to join the Unique Shop cooperative. Collectors can find some pretty wonderful stuff there. For the longest time, there was a pair of baby blue cowgirl chaps with white fringe hanging from a hook in one corner of the shop. I almost bought them, but my wife is not a cowgirl, and they would have looked ridiculous on me. I've purchased some inexpensive antique cameras in the Unique Shop. Sometimes, you have to poke around in the display cases to find the best stuff -- antique toys and carpenters' tools. There are ancient copies of Life magazine, old sheet music and books. There's even a beautiful collection of women's hats from the 1940s and '50s, some with gaudy flowers on them. A person even can purchase pot scrubbers hand crocheted by Jean Cooper for just $1.25.

The Unique Shop isn't exactly in crisis as it prepares to enter its 34th year this October. It has a sweetheart of a lease from the Hogue family for its 360 square feet in the historic Squire Building. And there's money in the bank, thanks to the generosity of the Arthur Anderson estate. But the Unique Shop could use some new members' fresh energy. Shirley Sharp, who has been a board member and faithfully has worked two half-day shifts a week for 25 years is bowing out of the fine junk business. Her fine eye for desirable bargains always has kept the Unique Shop supplied with an inventory that keeps loyal customers coming back a couple of times a month to see what's new and collectible.

Shirley has an arthritic back that won't allow her to traipse across Colorado looking for merchandise any longer. Thankfully, that's not the case with Katie Fletcher. She's the accounting angel who rode in on a spreadsheet a few years back to help the cooperative modernize its bookkeeping. Fletcher does her vital number crunching off site, and one of the charms of the Unique Shop is that there are no signs of modern technology in the shop. That means no cash register. The volunteer clerks keep track of the consignment sales in a three-ring binder and jot down the commissions. They make change from a bank bag and compute sales tax from a chart.

Anyone who wishes to sell antiques, collectibles, quilts and handmade crafts on consignment at the Unique Shop is welcome to inquire at 879-3462. Founded by the late Virginia Andrew and Ruth Carver, the shop is open for business from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Mostly, the Unique Shop is looking for people 55 and older who are interested in volunteering to work a half-day as a clerk. Sadly, I don't yet qualify. But for anyone who wants to become a part of an organization that has helped define the community of Steamboat for several decades, this is a rare opportunity to get started in the fine junk business. Speaking of fine junk, my yardstick isn't 3 feet long. It's actually a 4-foot stick, which allowed the proprietors of H&M Equipment in Hastings to make the claim that they are "Extra Long on Service." If you're in the market for a vintage yardstick, I guess you know where to go.

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