Ocean City —
"People love this stuff," said Barb Colombo, looking around her new store on West Avenue. "I think it brings back memories. It tugs at the heartstrings."
Coastal Postal is a collection of vintage Ocean City memorabilia. The postcards hanging on the walls, propped on bookshelves and filed in wooden boxes started out as a hobby for Colombo and her husband, Mike, many years ago. It has now turned into a business, and has expanded to include any type of archaic paper souvenirs from Atlantic City to Cape May.
"Mike and I have always been collectors of pretty much anything, but particularly of amusement park art," said Colombo.
A small carousel dog greets customers at the front entranceway, an aluminum piece from the 1950s. Inside the store, two more carousel pieces - these ones horses - serve as backdrops to the vintage postcards and memorabilia hanging on the walls. There are more of the carousel horses in the Colombo's upstairs residence.
"The postcards have a fabulous history," Colombo said. "I got into postcards when I moved down here in 1999. I began by matting them with beach chair material, which was my husband's idea."
Colombo admits that, while the business is hers, a lot of the ideas come from her husband. The two share their own history. Barb and Mike started dating in high school when they were 17 years old. They have been married for 35 years.
"Our first shore trip was to Ocean City," Colombo said.
Colombo and her husband moved to the area after retirement. Colombo taught health and physical education at Shawnee High School for 30 years. Her husband, Mike, taught the same subject at Pennsauken. The pair knew they wanted to retire to Ocean City.
"I love Ocean City. I love going out the door and going down Asbury Avenue," said Colombo. "The parades, all the events in the summer."
Colombo's work covers all shore towns from Atlantic City down to Cape May. Her focus has shifted from postcards - she now mattes anything, from vintage paper to sheet music to matchboxes. The items date from 1900 to the 1970's.
"People like different things," Colombo said.
Colombo finds her material in a number of places - postcard shows, antique shops, and yard sales are just a few. At this point, she has made herself well known in the community. "I know enough people that we trade," said Colombo.
The majority of Colombo's business doesn't come out of her store. She does several craft shows in the area, and was in the Spring Block Party last month in downtown Ocean City. She considers her work more a craft than fine art.
"I'm a crafter," said Colombo, "so basically it's art and craft shows that I do. I started out as a crafter and I'll continue as a crafter."
However, she hopes opening Coastal Postal will attract more customers as the summer season gets underway. But selling is not the main reason Colombo opened her store.
"It's a fun small business. It's fun finding the stuff. It's fun hearing people's stories," she said.
Customers will reminisce with Colombo as they sift through her artwork. Postcards jog memories of days gone by. Colombo learns a lot from her customers' stories. Everyone, whether it's Lucy the Elephant in Margate or a favorite beach in Ocean City, has a favorite.
Colombo has her favorites, too. "Anything with bathing beauties with the old bathing suits," she said as she flipped through the Annual Resort Guide of Atlantic City from 1926.
This is one of her favorite pieces that she does a lot of printing from. She also works from vacation guides and programs. Her newest addition is sheet music.
"I do frame some originals," said Colombo. "It's not all prints."
On the back of each frame, particularly on postcard pieces, Colombo photocopies the back of the postcard and pastes it to the back of the matte. In this way, a customer can read the postcards without taking apart the frame.
While away from Coastal Postal, Colombo enjoys working out at the gym, gardening and spending time with her husband, two sons, new granddaughter, and her dog Willis.
"I like being busy doing anything," she said.
Of course, Coastal Postal keeps her plenty busy. The work, Colombo said, is worth it.
"When people see it, they just love it," she said. "That's what this is all about. It's about the memories."
Coastal Postal is located at 1127 West Ave. in Ocean City. For more information, call (609) 364-6327.