Laura Rasa has a passion for collecting and selling vintage jewelry.
Somewhat of a thrill-seeker, Rasa also gets an adrenaline rush when she can reunite missing pieces.
Rasa owns The Market Place in downtown Iola with her husband, Randy.
Rasa explains that costume jewelry is often originally sold as a collection: necklace, earrings, bracelet and brooch. As such, it’s easy for pieces to become separated, and it can be very difficult to find an entire collection, or “parure.” Customers will travel across the country to find a missing piece.
For example, consider a gorgeous Kenneth J. Lane necklace with its intertwined black glass beads and rhinestone-encrusted leopard head with emerald eyes for a clasp. It was part of a set sold by Avon, and Rasa wants to find the matching earrings, bracelet and purse.
If Rasa can’t find a matching item, she’ll pair a piece with something compatible. Maybe a necklace with a nice scarf or a purse.
Consider that leopard necklace again. If she could find the bracelet and earrings, she’d throw in a nice stole. Or maybe a 1950s-era box purse that looks more like a jewelry box.
“I have a little over 5,000 pieces of vintage jewelry,” she said. “Not all of it is out (on display) because I’m waiting for a piece to go with it or I’m not ready to part with it yet.”
In the next few weeks, she’ll use her eye for compatible design to give The Market Place a new look.
The store will close Jan. 7 until the end of the month for renovation. Rasa plans to use that time to rethink and renew. She’ll get rid of large pieces of furniture and will reorganize the shelves to more prominently display items.
The Market Place offers vendor booths that sell antiques, collectibles and handmade items.
Rasa is also asking her 15 vendors to reorganize their booths during the renovation.
“It’s like fitting a puzzle together,” she said.
The store will reopen Feb. 1.
RASA has collected vintage jewelry, hats and more for about 35 years. She previously ran an eBay business where she bought and sold vintage items.
She’s learned to identify items by their various details.
Rasa picked up a multi-colored brooch and flipped it over.
“Most people will look at the front, but I look at the back first,” she explained.
She pointed to rivets in the back that helped identify the piece from the Juliana line of jewelry. Juliana pieces were not signed but included a hangtag.
She also pointed to the metal “dog teeth” that held the gems in place, and Aurora Borealis rhinestones with their iridescent quality.
“I love the bling, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes my favorites are the ones with material that’s hard to find.”
She lifted a delicate necklace with a gold chain and diamond-shaped pieces of sparking thermoset lucite, a material commonly used in costume jewelry from the 1950s and 60s.
She compared the necklace to a bracelet made in China, using a cheaper plastic material that looked similar. The difference in weight was stunning. The necklace looked more delicate, but was twice as heavy as the more modern piece.
She tapped on it.
“You can hear the difference.”
When she and Randy moved to Iola several years ago, she saw an opportunity to share her knowledge and love of vintage jewelry with the local community.
She began managing The Market Place for Jeff and Tammy Dieker, who had purchased the building and business from Debbie Suchy. After about a year, Rasa took over The Market Place; she leases the building from the Diekers.
Early on, Rasa moved most of the clothing to an upstairs loft. She wanted to keep the focus on unique collectibles, rather than a typical “flea market” vibe.
Rasa typically purchases items at estate sales or auctions. She prefers estate sales, because she has more time to consider a piece and set it aside. An auction is more of a gamble.
This past year, of course, she has been unable to attend as many sales because of coronavirus restrictions.
She initially offered more antique items, but found it difficult to sell the more costly pieces. Now, she offers a nice mix of vintage and antique collectibles.
“People want bargains. They’re looking for high quality items at an affordable price.”
Vintage, it seems, has come back into style.
In recent years, Rasa has seen a trend of younger people becoming more interested in vintage items including jewelry. She enjoys sharing her passion and knowledge with the younger generation.
She also sees more customers from out of town, usually those who are looking for a specific piece or have a certain vision of the type of item they need.
Some collectors return year after year. She knows of at least two groups who visit Iola for several days in July. They’ll stay in one of the downtown lofts and visit her store and other area antique shops.
She enjoys visiting with those repeat customers from across the country. Often, they’ll show her photos of pieces they purchased on a previous trip. Rasa likes to see how customers incorporate her items in their own design.
Local customers don’t always appreciate the value of a store like hers, she said.
Those who visit for the first time, though, are often awed by the eclectic collection of unique and unusual items.
Rasa offers a “quarter shelf,” where items can be purchased for just 25 cents. She also has a “dollar shelf.” Those shelves are popular with local children, especially at Christmas when they need to find an affordable gift.
Vendors can add items to the dollar shelf, but if it doesn’t sell within six months, they must put it back on their own shelf or add it to the quarter shelf.
Rasa will sometimes add her own items to a vendor’s booth to draw attention, such as a large colorful vase.
In July, she celebrates her own birthday by offering a “tax-free holiday” on all purchases. She’ll also give away items.
AFTER the renovation, Rasa plans to offer cards for customers to rate the changes she’s made.
“I want to get feedback,” she said.
“It’s like a file in my head. I’m rearranging and putting things together. It’s a constant process.”