Dee Kopp's antique store in downtown Anoka has its own pedigree. Dog figurines, cushions, books and art dominate a store oozing with memories and curiosities, a place where questions and conversation come as naturally as the talk that once took place when folks sat around a potbellied stove in the old general store.

"We like dogs, so dogs are our specialty," said Kopp, owner of Yours, Mine & Ours Antiques. "In this town, if you want your antique store to stand out, you almost have to have a specialty."

In a quaint downtown with an old-fashioned Main Street, where empty storefronts have outlasted new businesses, Anoka's antique stores are more than cornerstones. They're everywhere.

Amore Antiques; Antiques on Main; Artique Inc.; Yours, Mine & Ours, and the Front Porch are the core antique shops clustered in the heart of downtown.

Then there are the collectible and occasional stores such as Nic Nac Paddywac, Toy Boy, the French Flea, the Loft on 2nd, Lazy Turtle, Piccadilly on 2nd and Reactions -- among the dozen or more stores that can redecorate your home while reviving your imagination.

"The antique stores are definitely a draw," said Pete Turok, president of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce. "People know they can hit a day's worth of antique stores by coming to Anoka."

Stillwater, a river town known as a tourist destination, is also a haven for antique collectors. So is Hopkins, a drive-through with a classic Mainstreet for western suburbanites heading toward Minneapolis.

Anoka's antique shop owners have had to generate business the old-fashioned way -- giving the customers exactly what they want. They've done that by specializing, by having seasonal sales and by strength in numbers.

"The more shops in the area, the more likely people will come," said Nancy Caine, owner of Antiques on Main.

"Not many cities have a Main Street anymore," Caine said. "The quaintness and charm of the city make a good setting for this -- whether we're catering to year-round customers or tourists."

Last week, Kathy Walz of Princeton, Minn., owner of K & K Collectibles there, was browsing through Antiques on Main while marveling at all the antique shops on the block.

"It's a draw," she said. "It has to benefit all of them."

In it for the long haul

Even in the best of economic times, not everyone is in the market for old fishing lures, faded coins, rusted campaign buttons, spooners, Bombo Rivera baseball cards, dented furniture, hula hoops or books with cracked bindings and yellowed pages.

Then again, these are items that customers will purchase second-hand for the long haul. What once were discards become heirlooms to be passed down and treasured -- or maybe sold again.

"When your house is packed, you have to make a decision," said Kopp. "Is it going to stay or go?

"But there's always something better to come along."

She recently sold a water bottle that hung in a drug store in the 1800s. Colored water would be placed in it to see if there was disease "like the plagues," she said.

"I can't say why someone wanted it," she said. "There's always a reason."

Charla Jones, a substitute teacher from Andover, maneuvered through Antiques on Main looking for old movie reels and movie posters and photos.

"I'm looking for old movie memorabilia," she said. "We just redid our basement, turning it into a TV room.

"I don't know if I'll find what I want. Maybe it will just hit me. But it's fun to look."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419