Hannibal councilman, wife open antiques shop in Mark Twain Boyhood Home complex

Caption/Description: Lou Barta, co-owner of Aunt Polly's Treasures with his wife, Jenie, run the new antique shop in Hannibal's downtown area. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jan. 4, 2012 9:09 am Updated: Jan. 18, 2012 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Lou and Jenie Barta love antiques -- so much so that they fell in love over antiques.

So the Bartas figure it's only right that they should open an antiques shop.

"We wanted to see if we could make our hobby into an actual business for ourselves," Lou Barta said.

The couple own Aunt Polly's Treasures, which opened Dec. 9 at 213 Hill St. in downtown Hannibal.

Their shop, located next door to the Becky Thatcher House in the heart of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home complex, was home for about three decades to the Mark Twain Books and Gifts souvenir shop, which moved in April to a larger location on Main Street.

Barta, the city's 3rd Ward councilman, said he and his wife went back and forth for several months about buying the building and setting up shop. Both have long been interested in antiques and historic preservation. Their first date was at an antiques mall in Crown Point, Ind., where they lived before moving to Hannibal, and they are active in Friends of Historic Hannibal and operated a booth in the defunct Midwest Antique Co. in Palmyra.

Aunt Polly's, named for the disciplinarian aunt in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," joins a glut of antiques shops in downtown Hannibal. Setting it apart is its focus on everyday items of days gone by -- kitchenware, tools and a smattering of pop culture items, among other offerings.

"We're more interested in antiques that come from daily life and living," Lou Barta said.

That includes men's, women's and children's items from all walks of life. He tells of an 11-year-old boy who came in with his grandfather; the two were equally fascinated by the shop's selection.

The shop opened the weekend of the downtown Christmas parade, which saw its best attendance in several years, with a trickle-down effect to downtown businesses.

In general, the shop will be open only on weekends until the busy summer tourist season begins to ramp up. However, Barta said the couple will turn on the open sign whenever they're working on the shop, something they hope to be doing a lot to prepare for tourist season.

The shop also will open by appointment, which is fairly uncommon among the area's antiques shops.

For Barta, opening a business downtown is not only an extension of his and his wife's interest in cities' historic districts, but also part of the ongoing effort to restore the heritage and vitality of the historic downtown area, which represents the heart of Hannibal.

"A lot of our dollars come from tourism downtown," Barta said. "I'm really thrilled that we can be part of the continued revitalization."