PANORAMA - Treasures of The Trading Post

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Larry Luke brings for a vibrant painting and frame from the darker confines and organized chaos of his store on Main Street in Milton-Freewater.

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A box of 35mm film canisters recalls a bygone day and offer up a brightly hued potential for some future use or project.

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Luke sweeps the sidewalk clean in front of his store.

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Framed within a lighted, vintage vanity mirror, a shopper at The Trading Post in Milton-Freewater eyes a prospective purchase while surrounded by a colorful collection of other possibilities.

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Luke starts his day by moving items to the sidewalk to free up customer walking space in his store.

MILTON-FREEWATER - Larry Luke started collecting when he was 13 years old, purchasing two buggies, a sleigh and a cavalry saddle.

"I still have all of that except the saddle," Luke said, adding he wasn't especially interested in equine equipment at the time. "I just picked it up because it was old."

Luke recalled that, even at that young age, he would watch the garbage man drive past, and think he could never be a garbage man: He'd spend too much time sorting through the trashing looking for treasures.

At one point in his life, Luke said he spent roughly $1,000 a month at thrift stores. And he never wanted to sell anything.

"People told me I couldn't take it with me," Luke said. "And I thought, ‘yes I can, I'll just dig a bigger trench.'"

Luke added that his children have been pestering him for years to sell off his collection, or they would keep him on life support until they died so they wouldn't have to deal with it.

Luke didn't begin to think seriously about selling anything until after the 2008 housing market crash, and it became apparent his painting business would dry up.

"I knew I'd have to do something else," Luke said.

Luke started his own painting business in Walla Walla in the 1990s and has painted a range of buildings downtown over the years. But when work started to run out, he turned to his collection.

Walking into Luke's new secondhand store at 912 S. Main St., it's clear his "collection" is eclectic. Officially named The Trading Post, the title "Miscellany of Old Stuff" might better fit.

Walking through the front doors, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of items stuffed into the small space. Antique tools and kitchen ware peek out from behind other, bigger items like small forest creatures in a Disney film.

A fly net for a horse hangs from the ceiling like a giant leather jellyfish. A cast-iron vacuum cleaner sits on the floor, looking like a bashful droid from a '60s sci-fi film.

Near the back counter, a large, gold-colored mirror with a ring of light bulbs sits on a table, like a queen surrounded by lesser subjects.

"I know it's kind of girly," Luke said. "But I like it."

Movie projectors, old picture prints, fishing poles and anything made before plastic replaced leather, tin and cast iron rounds out the sensory overload.

Then Luke pointed out a door to an entire second room full of saws, books, cast-iron pulleys and bits of pieces of old car parts.

Luke navigates the aisles and shelves not as a store proprietor, but as a loving caretaker. When people leave with parts of his collection, it's bittersweet, he said.

"It's good to see they're happy, and the stuff is going to a good home," Luke said.

The Trading Post is open Tuesday through Saturday.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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