Owning Antiqology, a charming little antiques store in downtown Huntington, wasn’t really the plan for Adam and Rebecca Hanson.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even the second plan or the third plan.
Antiqology has a fine selection of antiques, from the signs to quirky little kitchen tables to bicycles, but if you peer in the back you’ll see what really makes the store unique.
Antiqology has a soda and ice cream bar that just features more than 500 varieties of craft bottled soda. That’s right, 500 sodas.
It has basically any kind of sweet carbonated beverage you can imagine. And some you would never imagine.
Adam said his store has one of the largest selections of sodas in the country but he can’t say it has the largest. He does, however, think his list of sodas is the purest. Antiqology only carries original recipes, not co-packed brands.
For example, the Hansons sell many varieties of the Frostie line of sodas from Detroit. But the company that makes Frostie also makes the Deadworld Zombie sodas – a very popular brand these days. The Hansons do not sell Zombie sodas because they are simply repackaged versions of the Frostie sodas. They also don’t sell what Adam called novelty sodas such as ones with bacon flavoring.
To say they take their soda seriously is an understatement.
"I’ve been called the soda Willy Wonka in the business," Adam said with more of a sense of embarrassment than pride.
Adam’s love of entrepreneurship started by accident in high school, though it was in his blood as his family used to run the Hoosier Drive-in. He fell in love with BMW automobiles and wanted to race them, but he struggled to find parts. So he started getting after-market parts from Europe. Before he knew it he had a successful little parts business going.
He also raised goats. Not your regular ol’ pasture goats, these were show goats and his goats were so nice he was basically able to show them professionally. The nest egg for his future endeavors was obtained when he sold his herd.
He traded his love for BMWs into a love for Jeeps and he started selling after-market parts for them. Around the same time he also fell in love with a girl from Vincennes who had run a business of her own – a cleaning company that specialized in medical offices – before moving to Huntington to study Bible and religion at the university.
The two married and eventually bought a historic home in Huntington to raise their family, which includes daughter Maitlyn, 14 – a fan of Butter Beer and Cheerwine – and 7-year-old Caleb – a ginger ale aficionado.
They wanted to fill their home with antiques to keep it as historic as possible but wanted, "cool antiques," Rebecca said.
"We became pickers," Adam said. "We didn’t know what picking was, but that is what we were."
They amassed enough antiques at sales and auctions that it came time to have a garage sale. When more than 300 people showed up for that first sale and folks started asking if they could get more antiques from them, a light bulb went off.
And Antiqology was born.
The Hansons couldn’t sell antiques properly out of their home and moved to a space downtown about three years ago.
"Rebecca was a pastor for a period of time, and we kept saying we care a lot about our community, want to see the community grow and revitalize a community," Adam said. "It was time to walk the walk."
A few months later, the Huntington County Visitors Bureau held a small-business contest with the prize of free rent for a year and a guaranteed three-year lease at the shop’s current home at the corner of North Jefferson and East Market streets.
Winning that prize has been a boon to the community as much as their business.
"We’ve had a lot of younger entrepreneurs showing interest in downtown since then," said Tina Bobilya, executive director of the visitors bureau. "And it has given the town a sense of pride. A lot of people come downtown now just to go there.
"(The Hansons) have become sort of a beacon downtown. It says, ‘We’re coming back.’ Sometimes it just takes a little business like that to get the ball rolling."
Another homage to Huntington’s history was the Hansons’ purchasing the rights to Kolatona Beverage Works, a soda company that was founded in the city in 1894. They now make their own craft sodas under the Kolatona name and reserve 10 percent of their sales of those drinks to go toward downtown improvement efforts.
They also specialized their ice creams, which are made at a Michigan creamery, to pay homage to Huntington. They offer Nick’s Peachy Apple Pie ice cream, a tribute to the legendary Nick’s Kitchen down the street and its owner, Jeanne Anne Bailey. They also have offered a Johnny’s Cinnamon Roll ice cream, which honored another historic spot – Johnny’s Drive-in on Riverside Drive.
"They’ve went out of their way to include other businesses and I’ve never seen anything like it before," said Bailey, who has owned and operated Nick’s for 24 years. "And I have learned from them. They bring in all kinds of new aspects on small business."
Pouring it over
When they moved into their current space, the Hansons thought an ice cream counter would be great for downtown Huntington. At the time, Adam said, nobody was serving hard-scooped ice cream anywhere in the city. And given Adam is, as Rebecca stressed, "Severely lactose intolerant," and couldn’t enjoy the ice cream, they wanted to offer some cool bottled sodas.
Well, before he – and she – knew it, his soda part took off. It took off to the point that now the couple has a warehouse to store them all and often rents trucks so they can venture off to factories to stock up when necessary.
"Our concept was to do a modern twist on an old general store," Adam said. "We are trying to sell an experience. Glass bottles are nostalgic and fit perfectly with what we wanted to do."
Of the 500-plus soda varieties, over 70 are beers (i.e. root, ginger, birch, sarsaparilla), more than 40 are cream sodas, and there are 25 diet varieties. There are also three draft selections – two Kolatonas and 1919 Root Beer. Most range in price from $1.50 to $5 (only one costs $5 and most are under $3). They also sell them online and ship them.
The standard Kolatona soda that is always on draft is Rockola, a vanilla cream soda that has an extra flavor that they don’t divulge. It "may or may not be cherry," is all the Hansons say. Adam said it reminds most folks of the classic Faygo flavor Rock ‘n Rye. Their second tap has an ever-changing seasonal soda. When I visited it was a pumpkin-flavored soda.
I simply loved the Rockola, which has a thick, foamy head, but it is smooth on the palate with a wonderful creamy finish. Adam, without getting too soda-geeky on me, explained that the process he uses to make it creates big carbonation bubbles – which form the head – and small ones to keep it smooth. Most sodas have one or the other but not both.
Asking Adam which soda is their best is kind of like asking me to name my favorite food. As he mulled it over, Rebecca jumped in quickly because she knew his favorite. Whenever he is out of Hippo Size brand’s Hippo Huckleberry – a unique variety made with huckleberry and elderberry extracts – he pines for it, she said. Adam did not dispute her claim.
"I just want a constant drip of it like an IV only for my mouth," he said. "It’s a unique flavor and it’s bold and strong."
Rebecca is less enthused about soda, but perked up when I asked about the Virgil’s Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer – the only $5 brand at the store and an elusive variety that is hard to keep stocked. It had so many spice notes and levels of flavor that it was as good as any root beer I have ever tasted, and I didn’t exactly have to twist her arm to get her to share one with me.
The Hansons just started the final year of their 3-year lease and have no plans to leave. They have discussed expanding to other markets, but have reservations about doing it too close to home.
"We did this to bring people to Huntington, so putting one in Fort Wayne, we feel, would go against that," Adam said.
He also can’t see the antiques being squeezed out because, as they both reiterated, they couldn’t do what they do when it comes to purchasing and repurchasing soda without the steady income the antiques bring them.
But they aren’t going to close the door on any changes in the future.
Just like the BMWs, the cleaning business, the Jeep parts and spreading the Gospel – which Rebecca said she hopes and plans to partake in again – the next inspiration could come at any time.