Piedmont Ave. Curio Shop Reserves Space For Local Makers

Relic, also known as Montclair Estates. | Photos: Will Callan/Hoodline
By Will Callan - Published on October 04, 2017.

Consignment shop Relic and Montclair Estates (4268 Piedmont Ave. at Echo) is making space for locally-made items to complement its collection of vinyl records, antique furniture, Indonesian woodwork, and estate sale curios. 

For the last six months, its owners have have been designing and printing Oakland-themed t-shirts ($25), and plan to convert one-fourth of the store to an area where local makers can display and sell their wares. 

“Hopefully, it finds people who make shirts, or make wallets, make belts, jewelry, and sort of set it up here,” said owner Niels Dahl-Jensen. 

Owner Niels Dahl-Jensen at the register, below Relic's original tees. 

Niels and his wife, Amy, operations manager at Emeryville Marina, told Hoodline that since moving from Montclair to Piedmont Avenue six years ago, since last November, retail floor sales have fallen off dramatically.

“We’ve been gutted by Amazon, and honestly, we’ve been gutted by the election,” said Amy. “People will walk in with their four-dollar coffee—which I’m guilty of too—and then belabor over literally a one-dollar record. It’s a little ironic.” 

But customers who venture inside are bound to encounter plenty of gratification—a rosewood liquor cabinet from 1920s China, for example, or a late-19th century shíshī, a guardian lion from a temple in Japan that the original seller lugged back to the US as a carry-on. 

“It looks rough,” said Niels, “but to the right person, they understand that it’s rough for a reason.” 

Local historians can inspect $3 vintage postcards that depict scenes from a photochrome Oakland, and new neighbors can find relatively cheap furnishing, like a $150 pair of Biedermeier chairs. 

The shop's "craneicorn" design is a top seller. | Photo: Relic

Relic and Montclair Estates also sells stonework and woodcarvings from Bali; every few years, Niels and Amy visit native workshops to select enough items to fill a shipping container, eliminating the middle man in their buying process. 

A few years back, Niels started commissioning hand-painted signs from a few of the woodworkers in Bali, and their popularity convinced him to start making t-shirts. 

“Everyone says, is this local?” said Niels, referring to the wooden signs. “And I’m like, well, if you put two zeros on it it would be local. The shirts, on the other hand, are cheaper to make here.”

In 1994, Niels was finishing up classes at San Francisco State and working at a shoe store in Montclair when a local merchant approached him, explained that his wife had just inherited a “ginormous collection of crap,” and asked if he would help run the estate sale. 

This “random weekend job,” said Niels, grew into Montclair Estates. In 1998, Niels became owner, and in 2011 the building sold, forcing Niels down the hill, to his current location. 

But whereas Montclair was a “captive community,” explained Amy, the Piedmont Avenue shoppers have been harder to consistently charm. 

“Up in Montclair, he was the linchpin,” she said. “That store was the social heart, the retail heart, of that whole village.”

Alfie, Lord of Darkness, one of two store pugs. 

With the recent line of T-shirts and aspirations for a local crafts showroom, Niels hopes to reestablish his role in the neighborhood and deepen his Oakland roots. 

“It’s just a really stand-up place, with people who are here because they want to be,” said Amy. “Because it’s not an easy place to be all the time.”

Relic and Montclair Estates (4268 Piedmont Ave.) is open every day from 11am to 6pm. 

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