15 Sep SHOP WITH US: SKELETON KEY ART & ANTIQUES
By Tracy Jacks
Brandy VandeWalle swears her business isn’t haunted, but I’m not buying it. There might not be poltergeists going bump in the night, but everywhere you turn inside Rock Island’s Skeleton Key Art & Antiques, you can see the ghosts of days gone past just itching for a new home.
Located at 520 18th St. in downtonwn Rock Island, Brandy and her husband John have repurposed the former Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and converted it into a vendor mall specializing in art, antiques, and hand-crafted items. Every nook and cranny of the grand building is filled with unique offerings from a wide array of local vendors clamoring to be a part of the Skeleton Key world.
“Vendors rent space from us,” VandeWalle explains, “and then bring in their own items to sell. If someone were interested in being a vendor, they would need to stop down and talk to me. We’re generally always full, but I do have a wait list and I’m always looking for items I haven’t seen.”
You never know what you’re going to find as you turn each corner. Precious antique furniture? Check. Home-made soaps? You bet. Custom cigar-box guitars? Ready to rock. It’s a dream business that the VanDeWalle’s have built from scratch.
“For years John and I had known we wanted to open our own business,” Brandy explains. “And roughly what we wanted it to be: a blending of our love for art and antiques, and a way for other local artists and antique lovers to have an outlet.”
Little did they know, they’d end up in a building that was also a dream come true. “The funny thing is that whenever we talked about locations, we always came back to this home. John has a friend who worked here when this was still a funeral home, and he’d frequently visit. John loved the huge attached garage and used to tease the owners that if they ever sold the building, it was going to be his. Fast forward twenty years later to when John and I got married. I was living in an apartment downtown while John owned a home across town. I kept telling him that I wanted one of the gorgeous Broadway area homes, and he told me he’d move downtown if Wheelan’s ever sold,” Brandy explains.
“I agreed it was a neat building, but it had been in business here for almost 90 years and we never thought it would actually come up for sale. We used to drive around on Sunday afternoons looking for a building where we could live upstairs and run a business below, but nothing ever lived up to this building. When it finally DID go up for sale, our children were so little that I couldn’t imagine trying to start a business. Shockingly, the place remained on the market for several years. I tell everyone it waited for us. Opening Skeleton Key felt like a bunch of pieces falling into place,” said VandeWalle.
Renovating the building was a labor of love for the VandeWalle’s, but it was well worth it. “We were really very lucky,” explains Brandy. “The building did need some work, but overall, it was move-in ready. John and I moved our family into the building on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2013. Our initial focus was on making the upstairs into a home, something it hadn’t been in many years. As we got settled, we started working on the downstairs. We knew we wanted to change up the wallpaper and the carpet had to go. It was a long, labor-intensive process for which John gets to take 99% of the credit. He’s a remarkably hard worker. Once we got the painting and carpet done, we were up and running within a couple weeks. Skeleton Key opened for business on August 1, 2013.”
Since then, Skeleton Key has grown into one of the Midwest’s premiere destinations for antique aficionados and art addicts alike.
During the summer months, Skeleton Key sponsors a Farmer’s Market in their parking lot every Sunday from 12-3, as well as a monthly Artist’s Market on the second Sunday of every month. With an ever-changing inventory, Brandy always keeps her eye out for new talent and old treasures to spotlight.
“Most often,” she says, “vendors approach me about selling their goods here in the store, but occasionally, I do run across something so fantastic that I just have to invite them to be a part of Skeleton Key. The amount of talent around the Quad Cities is really staggering. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, in walks a whole new product. It’s one of my favorite parts of running our business.”
Skeleton Key Art & Antiques is open Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4. You can reach the store at (309) 314-1567 and visit them online on Facebook, Instagram, or at skeletonkeyqc.com.
This article originally appeared in the fall issue of the Downtown Rock Island Magazine. Pick up a copy of your own around town today!