Todd Thelen is very successful at what he does. Todd is the owner of Artifacts in Iowa City, nestled on the corner of N. Market and Gilbert. It is a visual treat walking into Artifacts on a grey day in Iowa City. The walls are covered inch to inch with various works of art. Furniture, toys, and trinkets tower around the store competing for your attention. It takes a careful eye and patience to not miss something great.
Artifacts is a phenomenon among the pickers, thrift store lovers, and collectors. Todd has customers travel from all over the country to pack up their trucks with his vintage goods. Todd even has a customer fly in from Japan three times a year. He’s always on the lookout for items that his customers will want. In order to be successful at this he’s set standards for the items his store sells. He’s looking for mid-century products and leaving behind the antiques. The once thriving antique market is dead and Todd is ahead of the game picking modern products of the Eames generation.
Besides the overwhelming amount of items in the store, one thing that’s hard to miss is the overall atmosphere. As if Iowa City wasn’t small enough, Artifacts feels like its own community. People walk in and around, exploring each nook for a treasure someone missed. Todd greets almost every person by name and a warm welcome before showing off his latest thrift find.
Todd has a strong customer base and a few regulars that come in every day checking in to see what’s new. Steve is one of Todd’s serious pickers. He travels hundreds of miles across the Midwest each day looking for that great buy among the junk. Today he’s come to the store with news that the infamous “marshmallow” sofa is rumored to be for sale nearby. Steve and Todd marvel over the sheer possibility of Artifacts hosting this one of a kind sofa, or modern work of art. In anticipation, Todd already plans to put the marshmallow sofa in the display window. The marshmallow sofa is considered to be the most iconic of the modernist sofas.
With a steady rise in the thrift store market, Todd is holding on tight and trying to not get burned out. The stores motto is, “If it’s boring, we don’t have it.” His niche is that he has cool stuff and it doesn’t cost a fortune. He has something for everyone, whether its 50 cent vintage stamps, Prada shoes, or modern sofas, there will be something that fits your budget. Last week I found a vintage Christian Dior sweater for 12 dollars. It’s safe to say that I almost fainted.
80 percent of the items in the store are consigned from the people who shop there. Before consignment Todd spent his time searching for the one of a kind items at antique shows and now they come to him. Todd thinks that the trend for thrift stores and second hand items can be correlated with the recession and consumers wanting to save money. People have realized that they can get a product of higher quality for half the price. Artifacts is growing rapidly and successfully with each year in business. Their only obstacle is space. Todd finds that the location of Artifacts is a critical factor to its success and doesn’t plan on moving despite the need for more room. Margaret Roberts, one of Todd’s full time employees, tells me that it can get tight but the merchandise goes out as fast as it comes in.
As I finished up my interview with Todd, Steve let me in on a secret. From his many travels across the Midwest to find the greatest of thrift, vintage, and antiques. There is no place out there like Artifacts. It has the furniture that New Yorkers will spend tens of thousands for and the charm of a small town community of genuine thrifters. Not to be confused with those personalities you see scripted on TV. Margaret tells me that it’s the best job she’s ever had.
It’s definitely worth a visit.