A timeless piece of downtown Kent

Jinae West

VIEW photos from City Bank Antiques.

Something is always ticking at City Bank Antiques: the constant “tick tock” of a grandfather clock.

Don Barrett, 57, is partial to the Victorian astronomical regulator, a rare 19th century grandfather clock, that stands more than 6 feet tall in the shop. He winds it once a week to keep it on time. There’s a certificate of authentication behind the glass casing. It’s not for sale.

Don and his wife, Karen, run the shop on Water Street in downtown Kent. They’ve been married for 30 years.

Don specializes in antique pocket watches. He repairs them on Saturdays, and the shop itself is one of the largest retailers in the state. Despite the immense collection of clocks, a sense of timelessness permeates the shop. The hands on many of the watches have stopped working, and the effect is a little disorienting; it’s difficult to tell what time it really is.

In City Bank Antiques, time is business and a little arbitrary. Things are everlasting here.

When a watch breaks, Don fixes it. When times get tough, the shop perseveres.

Karen, 57, had been prepared to close the doors a few days a week because of slow business but says she’s still selling things. Sometimes it’s just a small $10 item, but every bit helps to pay the bills.

“Which is all you can really ask for in this economy,” she says.

The thing is, antiques are luxury goods. People don’t necessarily need them, and in a recession, buying an old Tiffany-style lamp isn’t a top priority.

But Don, who also works in finance, sees antiques as investments. His passion is for pocket watches, and he mentions that some are made from pure gold and worth a lot of money. It’s an heirloom: something to pass down from generation to generation. He has a pocket watch that was given to him by his father that used to be his grandfather’s.

He says only a handful of companies make pocket watches anymore. A lot of them nowadays are quartz, which mean they run on batteries.

“New watches are cheap,” he says. “You know, $10 at Wal-Mart. An inexpensive pocket watch will cost you $50. But it will last. It’s a 100-year-old watch. It’s going to last. Five years from now, you probably won’t have that $10 watch from Wal-Mart.”

The Barretts opened City Bank Antiques in August 1995. Because they owned the building, Don and Karen decided to turn it into an antique shop. It had originally been used as a bank that dates back to 1911. In addition to clocks and watches, they sell antique jewelry, books and silverware.

Don’s love for antiques was the driving reason they opened it. He mentioned to Karen that downtown Kent needed a shop like the one he had in mind.

“And because our house was getting kind of cluttered, I’m thinking, ‘You know, that might be the way to go,'” Karen says. “So it was really his suggestion, but it almost seemed like he was just waiting for me to say that.”

Karen doesn’t have the same passion for antiques that Don does, but she’s learned to appreciate them. She likes the history and feels it’s her responsibility, as well as everyone else’s, to preserve it. Her favorite item is the music box in the front of the shop. She walks over to set it up. It plays “Silent Night.”

Don says repairing small pocket watches is like bringing something back to life. His desk in the back of the shop displays the tools to complete the tedious task: tweezers, tiny gears, dials and separated pieces and parts that fit together to create a mechanical version of time. Fixed, the watch resumes the life it had.

“I just think it’s fascinating how man has tried to organize his life,” Karen says. “We have calendars, and we have clocks, and that’s how we manage to have our days and nights organized. But we all know our mortality cannot be measured in this degree. And some people refuse to wear a watch, and when I was in college I didn’t wear one either because it was my way of being free of time.”

She doesn’t believe that now, though. Their 30th wedding anniversary was just a few weeks ago, all the kids have grown up, they’ve owned the shop for almost 14 years, and still the clock ticks on.

Contact features correspondent Jinae West at [email protected].