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Surprise is one of the reasons customers love Secret Treasures and keep coming back to the antiques and collectibles store at 605 Dempster St.

“It’s such a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find here,” says customer Ann Ragin, who admits to making frequent forays. Today she has come looking for lilac-colored cut glass. Finding none, she continues to cruise the perimeters of the shop’s two rooms.

What Ms. Ragin does find lights up her eyes and, she says, her day. Standing at the counter to pay, she is already fastening the chunky gold chain bracelet with its miniature purse charm on her wrist. She says it reminds her of her piano teacher, who always wore matching earrings and bracelets.

Erin Hayden, a recent graduate of Northwestern University, says she shops at Secret Treasures “a lot,” appreciative of finding “unique, affordable” costume jewelry and kitchen paraphernalia. She is here on this Tuesday morning hoping to retrieve a pair of earrings and some cufflinks she put on hold Saturday.

 Storeowner Dawn Okamoto explains to Ms. Hayden that merchandise on hold usually goes back on the shelves at the end of the day. But while also attending to their other customers, both she and Head of Operations Henry Flora continue to search for Ms. Hayden’s picks. At one point Ms. Okamoto is sure she has located the items, but all three laugh when they turn out to be things Ms. Hayden has just looked at and put back.

Such light-hearted adventures in shopping must be just what Ms. Okamoto hoped for when she left her corporate job in media sales to see whether she could make a living doing what she loves. Twenty-four years later, she has her answer. Just as she envisioned, she has a shop that offers what she calls “fun, affordable antiques, things people can have fun with but don’t care if they break.”

Ms. Okamoto still frequents flea markets and estate sales in her spare time. But she also relies on other sources. Among them are four or five experienced pickers, each with 15 to 20 years in the field, who scour the market and sell to dealers like her.

Although there appears to be an endless variety of merchandise on display, Ms. Okamoto says, “We only do things that sell.” Her specialties are costume jewelry and vintage kitchen pottery, crystal, and china.

Arrayed on shelves in the main room are pink and green plates, cups, bowls, and miscellaneous pieces
of the highly collectible translucent glass known as
Depression glass. Named for its popularity in the era of the Great Depression, the glass was given away free as
an incentive to purchase detergent or even movie tickets, Ms. Okamoto says.

Vintage table linens hang on a rack not far from the entrance. The east room has tier after tier of china plates and cups, just the thing for creating the mismatched place settings currently in vogue. Some more valuable articles – Waterford crystal, Lenox china, shamrock-dotted Irish Belleek – are displayed in a glass cabinet by the counter.

The hip hostess can accessorize herself as well as her table at the shop, choosing from fabulous fake jewelry – ropes of faux pearls and rhinestone brooches – or opting for the likes of the “genuine plastic” Bakelite bracelets prized by collectors.

Evanston resident Gary Piattoni comes to Secret Treasures in search of military patches and pins. But Mr. Piattoni is more than just an enthusiastic customer; he is an expert art and antiques appraiser. Since there is no formal training program for appraisers, he got his education in the usual way – at auction houses in Chicago and New York. For 20 years, he has worked with the Antiques Road Show. (See sidebar, page 9.)


What Is It Worth? Appraisal Event to Benefit Soup at Six

When Gary Piattoni told Dawn Okamoto, owner of Secret Treasures, he would like to donate his services for a charity event, she had no doubt which organization to choose. Soup at Six, Evanston’s oldest soup kitchen, is located in nearby Hemenway United Methodist Church and is “our pet charity,” she says.From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 5 at the shop, 605 Dempster St., Mr. Piattoni will offer free appraisals, two per person, of the potential market value of family heirlooms and other artifacts – jewelry, firearms, stamps, and coins excluded. A suggested donation of $5 per item will benefit Soup at Six.Mr. Piattoni says he expects most people will bring things that are hard to look up online. The surprise factor – the thrill of discovering that an item is worth much more than its owners suspected – is Antiques Roadshow gold. But that dramatic moment is the result of experts’ sifting through the two items allowed each of the 7,000 guests and choosing the best 50 for the show, he says. At the Secret Treasures event, even those whose family asset turns out to be only as valuable as its story will not be rejected.Anyway, antique lovers rebound and return, lured by surprise. Mr. Piattoni jokes that collecting is “like a disease”: when the endorphin high from a good find wears off, the collector is drawn to hunt again.