Jitterbug Antiques and Toys: a nostalgic toy shop faces tough times, happy customers

Story by Nick Jacobs

“Do you collect all of this yourself?” a woman asks Dee Jackmon, owner of Jitterbug Antiques and Toys, as she looks around with wonder at the thousands of antique toys, games, and airplanes. It’s hard to imagine that one man collected the countless brightly colored toy cars, retro neon signs, and dolls and action figures that line the walls of the shop. It’s also hard to imagine that in downtown Salt Lake City in a bustling economy such a magical little antique toyshop is doing about half the amount of business as last year.

The last year has been rough said the seventy six-year-old Dee Jackmon who said that many other stores on third south, known as the Broadway district, are having a tough time as well. However, Jackmon isn’t a cynical man, and the outlook at Jitterbug hasn’t always been this way.

Jitterbug has been around for more than 30 years. The original idea came from Jackmon’s wife, Kay, who gave up a lucrative job as a farmer’s insurance agent to start the shop. “She had all kind of things when I met her”, Jackmon said smiling, “She got it from her dad who was a junker”. He saw things in dumps and on the side of the street that were perfectly salvageable. He had a keen eye for perfectly usable items people had thrown away, and Kay brought the same collecting skills with her when they opened the shop in 1981.

“The first two years it was a rollercoaster ride”, Jackmon said explaining that they had no idea what to expect each day they opened, “but after 10-12 years it settled down.” They successfully ran the store together for 17 years before Kay was diagnosed with cancer. She died within the year. Jackmon has kept the shop open, running it by himself.

Dee Jackmon has collected a lot in the 34 years it has been open. Some of the toys and antiques are older than he is. There are all kinds of toys and antiques at Jitterbug: lunchboxes from cartoons aired in the 60’s, toy soldiers, collectible pins, brightly colored dolls, and several model airplanes. “Model airplanes have been my hobby my whole life” Jackmon said. Some of the airplanes he even made himself. He also collects marbles, though, there’s so many toys the shop you could say Dee collects practically anything. There’s even a whole display table full of old sodas in the shop.

Jackmon says that he still gets a lot of people in his shop; however, not as many people buy the toys and antiques anymore. Considering the low sales but high traffic the store gets, the shop almost serves as museum. Though there aren’t descriptions on every item, one could learn as much as from the store as from a museum by just asking a few questions. There’s toys and antiques from every era: radios from the 1930’s, election buttons from various campaigns, dolls from 1980’s sitcoms, and even pins from the Olympics. However, lately he has had a hard time selling all the toys and memorabilia.

Jackmon believes the downturn in business is due to the economy and new bike lanes put up last year. Yet, blaming the economy for the downturn in business is a hard sell considering sales-tax receipts were up 7 percent across Salt Lake City and up 8.75 percent along 300 South from 600 East to 300 West according to the city Finance Department by the Utah Tax Commission. The bike lanes, however, are a different story.

The bike lanes, which run all the way from 600 East to 300 West, were part of Mayor Becker’s push to make Salt Lake City more bike friendly. While Utah is the fifth most friendly state for bicyclists according to the American League of Bicyclists not everyone is so happy about the new bike infrastructure around the city. While a progress report from City Hall touts the bike lane as success increasing riders and sales, there is no concrete evidence that it increases the later. Business owners along 300 South, as well as residents, have mixed opinions on the lanes.

Jackmon has been very vocal about the bike lane having spoken to Mayor Becker and city officials as well customers and other business owners on 3rd South. He points to practical and aesthetic issues with the lanes: the lack of trees in front of store make it look like a “wasteland” he said. He also says that his elderly customers are confused by parking, and that the parking meters charge too much.

But if you can figure out the parking—or can get there some other way—Jitterbug Antiques and Toys is worth the trip. There is so much history in the store that it is practically a museum. One can get lost for quite some time browsing through all the unique toys and knick-knacks, and every time you go in there’s always countless new antiques and toys you didn’t notice last time. There isn’t another toy store in Salt Lake City that’s quite like it. Though business is down Jitterbug Antiques and Toys will most likely stay open, hopefully for another 30 years.

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