Her stories are as eclectic and treasured as the vintage items she has sold in her world famous Forreston shop since 1984. Each story is a cherished memory that takes the listener to a distant time, in a different setting.
Like the collection of treasures in her shop, Barbra Kauffman never seems to run out of stories, delivering each one with just the right inflection and hand gestures. One story leads to the next, each filled with memorable quotes and more than a few names dropped along the way. Barbra is a consummate name-dropper, but she doesn’t do it to impress as humility and grace exude from her every word. “It’s just my life,” she says. “And I’ve had a wonderful, remarkable life. In fact, I’m so happy I could just live!”
Barbra is in the process of relocating her Bon Ton Vintage shop to Downtown Waxahachie. She has already begun the process of moving some items over from the Forreston store to her smaller, rented space inside Old Town Village Antiques & Uniques located at 307 S. Rogers.
“I’m calling it ‘La Petite Bon Ton.’ Get it? Little Bon Ton?” she quipped, as her omnipotent humor and cheer drew others around her.
“I can’t wait until she’s here all the time,” said Melissa Brown, owner of Old Towne Village. “Every time she’s here she draws a crowd because she’s one of the people you just want to be around.”
Currently, Barbara is in the process of selling her building in Forreston. Until then, she is managing both locations.
“Right now, I’m spending most of my time in Forreston because let’s face it, the place isn’t going to run itself. I’m constantly bringing items up here to put on display. Melissa and her staff are always here, so I really don’t need to be.”
Barbra said she loves being in Downtown Waxahachie.
“There’s an energy here that’s special — and there’s so many wonderful people,” she said. “I love my store in Forreston. You make sure you get that in the paper. But since (my husband) Johnny passed away, I’m just not able to keep it going. It’s too big for me to handle on my own. But there are so many wonderful memories inside that building. It is a magic place. It really is.”
Pausing for effect, Barbra takes a deep breath and her eyes begin to sparkle again as an ear-to-ear grin stretches across her face.
“I’m just moving the magic to Downtown Waxahachie,” she said. “That’s really all we’re doing. We’re just moving the magic.”
While renowned among collectors of all things vintage and movie prop companies, most folks in Ellis County know Barbra and Johnny as the owners of “the place” to find treasures from the past.
“But we weren’t always collectors,” she said. “Wait a minute. OK, we were always collectors. But that was before people would call you a hoarder because you refused to sale anything.
Barbra and her husband Johnny were musicians.
“It was our life,” she explained. “We were both musicians when we met and got married 13 days later. We were professional musicians for years and then one day we decided we didn’t want to be musicians anymore.”
For the next few minutes Barbra shares the story of her early life with Johnny. When she speaks of Johnny, her eyes dance behind the thick glass of her spectacles perched low on her nose, the omnipresent smile never once leaving her face.
“We would have been married 54 years last Saturday,” she said, as a glint of sadness begins to replace the sparkle in her eyes. “We lived on the edge our entire life and we didn’t have any regrets.
“None!” she said, putting an exclamation point on the end for added emphasis. “We had a wonderful life together.”
Back to the name-dropping.
When Barbra and Johnny decided to leave the music business, she was singing at a prominent venue on the East Coast. Two weeks after leaving, she receives a phone call from the booking agent.
‘’’Barbra!’ He says to me over the phone,” she begins the story, placing her hand up to her ear as if she were holding a phone. “’I just wanted you to know that I found someone to replace you.’ He says, adding ‘Her name is Barbra, too, and I didn’t even have to change the sign. Best of all, I’m paying her a whole lot less than I was paying you!’ Do tell, I said, do I know her? I asked. ‘Naw,’ he tells me. ‘She’s a young kid just starting out. Her name is Barbra Streisand.’”
The area around Barbra erupts with a cacophony of both laughter and applause.
“True story,” she said, holding her right hand up as if she was willing to take an oath. But being replaced by Barbra Streisand wasn’t the take-away.
“Can you believe that I was paid more than she was?” Barbra said, evoking another round of laughter. (The story of how she came to perform on the Tennessee Ernie Ford television is another must hear).
“True story. I gave it all up to have the best job in the world,” she said. “The people I’ve met, the friendships I’ve made through collecting and selling once Johnny and I decided to get in the business. Well, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“OK, I do have some things that I’m never going to get rid of. But everything else is for sale,” she said, finding just the perfect place in each of her stories to zip in a one-liner.
While both shops are open, Barbra said she encourages folks to visit La Petite Bon Ton when they are downtown, and if they don’t see what they like, visit the main store in Forreston until the building is sold.
“At that point, I, along with all the magic, will be here,” she said.
Brown said she, along with other shop owners in the village, are ecstatic with the new addition of Bon Ton.
“The store itself is just remarkable, there is no question her items are sought after by collectors across the country. But best part is going to be having her here all the time. Every time she’s here she draws a crowd. People love her. They love visiting her and they love hearing her stories. As far as I’m concerned, this is a major coupe for the entire Downtown Waxahachie,” Brown added.
Old Town Village Antiques & Uniques is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 1to 5 p.m. Sunday.
For more information on Bon Ton, visit: