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Imports migrate to Forest Grove


Two new businesses bring European antiques, exotic stuff to Washington County

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN SCHELL - Gary Holstrom of Esoteric Stuff shows off some of his Exotic wears. When Rob Steeves closed down his former shop in Yamhill in 2009 during the depths of the recession, he thought he was done with the import business. But a long-distance phone call late last year changed all that.

On the other end was his friend Golly Goulding, an exporter in England. With 45 years in the business, Goulding was always cool and calm, Steeves said — but not that day.

Goulding had a 40-foot-long ocean container packed with about 150 pieces of antique furniture: English dressers, chests, bedding boxes, dinner tables and chairs. It had been set to be transported to the docks in two hours and loaded on a ship scheduled to sail that week, when the customer canceled the order.

Goulding was desperate to find someone else to purchase the furniture. Steeves agreed to help his friend and soon decided to give the antique business another try, this time in Forest Grove.

The owner of Rob Steeves Imports describes his business as the “Costco of antiques.” There’s nothing flashy about his current white warehouse, located on the corner of 23rd Avenue and Cedar Street. And, as in Costco, you can spend a little or a lot — from $39 for a stool to $3,900 for a seven-piece lounge set. The average price tag, he said, is around $300.

Prior to opening his new warehouse in Forest Grove on Jan. 10, Steeves ran RD Steeves Imports in Yamhilll for 10 years. Steeves began selling antique furniture in Carlton in 1994. Unable to procure enough American antiques, he chose to import from England, where there is more of a supply. Everything he sells is original and has not been refurbished. He said that when people come in they are surprised by the age and quality of his products, and that the prices are reasonable.

Steeves’ loyal customers, however, will have to follow him at least one more time. He has a three-month lease on the warehouse he rented and the landlord has another tenant lined up in April. Steeves will be there through the end of this week, until Friday, March 29. when O’Gallerie—an auction house in Portland—will come clear out everything he hasn’t sold.

He’s put everything on sale at 20 to 50 percent off while he searches for a new location in Forest Grove.

Walking through a museum

Steeves isn’t the only one to recently set up an import store in Forest Grove. EsotericStuff.com also offers products from other countries, but the storefront gallery, located at 1930 Pacific Ave., has a very different feel from Steeves’ warehouse.

Customers who venture into the downtown shop will see singing bowls, shrunken heads, swords, Asian sculptures and figurines, and one of the collector’s favorite items, a Dayak Shaman turtle-shell backpack from Borneo.

Curator Gary Holstrom said one of the most common things people say when they come into his shop is that “It’s like walking through an art museum.”

The gallery showcases Holstrom’s private collection of unique pieces of art from East Asia, the Oceana Islands and parts of Africa. Even though the majority of his sales are online, Holstrom likes the idea of being able to have a place to display his things instead of keeping them in inventory boxes. This, in turn, gives Forest Grove residents an opportunity to see pieces of art from other countries.

Holstrom uses acquisition agents to seek out reputable antique dealers and estate sales to find pieces for his collection. Agents also look for handcrafted items and historically relevant pieces in remote locations.

EsotericStuff.com originated in 2001 when Holstrom began filling display racks in front of his marketing communications company in Hillsboro with items from his personal collection. Eight years later it turned into an online business connected to a 1,500-square-foot showroom on his property in Scholls. He moved his residence to Forest Grove last year and last summer he opened the gallery.

Both Steeves and Holstrom are passionate about what they’re selling. Steeves likes the style of English furniture, especially pieces from the Victorian era, including items with detailed carvings. He said he’s proud to sell things he likes himself.

Holstrom loves to share his knowledge with other people, and he gets a good feeling knowing that they’re learning something. He also enjoys the photography part of running an online business, as well as learning things himself.

“Research takes time,” said Holstrom, “but I love it.”