The collection of small towns huddled around the Carquinez Strait have all contributed something of significance to California’s history, and in the process created for themselves an intrigue that continues to attract tourists and passers-by. Port Costa, for instance, has a (still-open) 130-year-old hostel that used to be a hub for sailors seeking ships to embark on expeditions. Vallejo, named after a California general who played a crucial role in the Bear Flag Revolt, has some of the area’s best historical museums, as well as a symphony that’s existed for more than 75 years. Martinez has John Muir’s old home, and Joe Dimaggio’s old yacht. Crockett has the historical C&H factory, The Old Homestead (built only two years after the Civil War) and an abundance of vintage thrift stores.
So that leaves Benicia, a town of with a similar history as other Carquinez-area dwellings: military bases, booming industry, and a couple celebrity appearances here and there (General Grant, who hated it, and Jack London, who liked it but often felt compelled to drink too much when he visited). Benicians are generally proud of their town’s history, and fittingly, there are plenty of historical museums within city limits.
But Benicia has also manifested its historical legacy in another notable way: Through the many antique stores that are nestled all up and down First Street, and have been for decades. Because of this, First St. has developed a reputation amongst the people of Solano and Contra Costa Counties as a place to stroll and search for artifacts from the past. And it may sound silly, but this phenomenon has actually changed the town’s culture and altered the lives of some of its residents.
Take Marge Delmas, for example, the owner of Blue Goose Antiques, which Local Happenings’ readership recognized with a Reader’s Choice Award (see last issue). Through her First St. business, and the antique shops where she worked prior to starting Blue Goose, Marge has been able to turn her passion of antique collecting into a long-term profession.
“I like the feel of the furniture and the history behind it,” Marge said. “I like to wonder: ‘Who set up this table? Did they teach their children numbers by kerosene lamps?’ It’s really intriguing to me.”
Marge has been in the antique business for roughly 20 years, which is an impressive feat, but one that’s dwarfed by her (ongoing) 53 years of collecting. Her journey in that field started incidentally, back when she and her husband Dave were newlyweds, and looking to furnish their house.
“We didn’t care for new furniture when we got married, so we started getting older pieces,” Marge said, when asked where her love for primitives began. “It was as simple as that.”
It turns out that primitives are good conversation starters—show anyone from the “Fireside Chat” era an old living room radio, for instance, and they’ll instantly be taken for a ride down memory lane. So not surprisingly, Marge’s reputation as an antique expert has given her opportunities to form many friendships and also to put her hands on primitives from all different times and places. But she’s also done a great deal to sustain the antique shop culture Benicia, which she’s now fully become a part of.
“I’m not going to make all kinds of money out of this, believe me,” Marge said, with a chuckle. “I just enjoy doing it; I love the customers, a lot of us have become friends. Everybody shares their stories and memories, and it’s a lot of fun.”
As far as First St. shops go, Blue Goose Antiques actually stands out by fitting in; as an independent small business, owned and operated by a longtime Benician, located in an old farmhouse built in 1891, selling handcrafted links to the past within a block of the historical capitol building, Blue Goose is the epitome of a Benicia store. And fittingly, Marge says she would love to see more antique stores pop up along First St., as that’s what brought people to Benicia, years before; Marge just wants what’s best for the city.
“When we first moved here, 40 years ago, there were around 20 antique shops in town,” Marge said. “I welcome anyone who wants to set up an antique shops here; the more retail we can get in here, the more it will help Benicia.”
Most of the merchandise at Blue Goose is from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Of that, most of the primitives are brought here from the East Coast, or the Midwest, where the greatest pool of antiques exist. Everything’s real—Marge doesn’t stock any reproductions, and after more than a half-century spent studying antiques, she knows the difference.
“I research everything; you have to educate yourself,” Marge said.
So if you come across a historical item in your attic, or if you have a question regarding a family heirloom, Marge will be happy to try to help you with the history of the item, or tell you how to research it.
Blue Goose Antiques is located at 622 First St., and can be contacted by phone at (707) 745-1715. They’re open Wed.-Sun, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to collectors, newlyweds looking to furnish their house, or anyone else looking to chat history with a woman who truly knows the business, the furniture, and the town.
“I love being here—my husband and I have been living here a long time and we’ve been doing this forever,” Marge said. “I have customers that have become friends and you just meet so many wonderful people. I look forward to coming in every day.”
Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.