By Megan Waldrep
Wayne Babcock sits in a chair in front of Angels Antiques, his shop on 4846 Carpinteria Ave., dipping glass bottles into buckets of soap and water. After a heavy soak he takes the glassware and wipes away the dirt and grime, revealing a unique purple hue buried beneath. He dries the bottles with a towel and they sparkle in the late afternoon sun as he places them on the vintage patio table in front of him. “I found these on my garage roof,” he explains. “The bottles are from an era when manganese was put in the glass so if you leave it out in the sun, it turns more and more purple.” He turns to greet a group of ladies, curiously lingering through the entrance of the shop. “Hi ladies!” he greets. “Let me know if you need help.” The customers thank him and enter with wild-eyed amazement, a theme not foreign to this particular place.
In October, Babcock will have owned the 1893 Victorian home-turned-shop for 30 years. A former gemologist, he acquired the space from his mother at a time when she needed help and he needed a job. The avid surfer and surf board collector jumped at the chance to work so close to Rincon. Babcock told his mother he would stay for two years but as her passion to run the antique store dimmed, his brightened.
With Babcock’s love of collecting leading the way, the property turned into a purchasable museum, of sorts. It’s jam packed with goods found at garage and estate sales, thrift stores (most notably Carpinteria’s bygone Salvation Army), swap meets, private sales, and, at times, trashcans. During the winter months, when retail business in Carpinteria slowed, Babcock used the Rose Bowl Flea Market to supplement income and make a living. This strategy worked well enough for him to finance his business while also raising three children on his own in a home on the property.
In addition to his antique treasures—which range from Hawaiiana shirts to chandeliers, toys, yard tools, house wears, skateboards, art, and thousands of items in between—is the diverse stock of surf boards he’s obtained over the years. “As an added bonus when I sold at the Rose Bowl, I used to write ‘Wanted: Old Surf Boards. Top Dollar Pay!’ on a chalkboard,” he said. ‘That was a big way I got a good collection together.” His current off-site collection is in the hundreds and spans a history of surfing over a century.
The next evolution of Angels Antiques came seven years ago when Zelda Prune, Babcock’s now significant other, found her way to the shop. Prune, in town to print a children’s book she authored on a friend’s vintage printing press, accompanied her friend to search for silver iced tea spoons. Knowing Babcock would have some, she brought Prune to Angels where Prune became fascinated with the space and soon enough, Babcock as well.
Now, Prune is the self-titled, “ambiance director” who helps keep the shop’s vibe authentic by staging items at a minimum to keep the integrity of the hunt. She explains it’s a walk down memory lane for some and new discoveries for others. “Kids come in here and they see a rotary phone and literally ask their parents, ‘What’s that?’ They look at their iPhones and back at the box phones a little confused,” she laughs. “It’s a history lesson for them.”
The store hours fluctuate depending on time of year, so it’s best to call ahead. Retirement, at the moment, is a thought for Babcock, but his eagerness for the next great thing continues to guide him. “To this day, I still have dreams I’m in the (Carpinteria) Salvation Army with amazing stuff I’ve never seen before. I’ll wake up and I’m just so happy,” he admits. “I’ll say, ‘Honey, I just had a dream I was in the bin and you wouldn’t believe what they had!’”