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This article was published 14/5/2015 (1136 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — You know her, you love her, but now you’ll have to live without her.
Vivian Proden, the spirited owner of Junk for Joy, the landmark antiques and collectibles store on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Portage la Prairie for the past 35 years, is retiring.
"Oh, we’re going to miss you," said a customer, dropping in for a sneak peek before Proden’s blowout sale of her stock at 50 per cent off, which starts Friday.
"Everybody I know, we can’t wait for the long weekend in May because that’s when Vivian opens," elaborated Arlene Beaulieu.
In another exchange, when someone asked a customary "How are you?" she went off on a little offensive. "I’m wonderful. I’m wonderful every day. See the green grass?" said Proden, 83, pointing to the ground. "I’m on this side."
If you have never visited Junk for Joy, shame on you. Probably every Manitoban has driven by her shop in the past 35 years. Named by a then 14-year-old Sandra Spriggs in a little contest held by Proden, Junk for Joy is as colourful as the personality that runs it.
It’s not junk at all. It’s overflowing with cool stuff. The shop is a lot bigger than it looks from the highway and is packed with merchandise that is clean, well organized, mind-blowingly eclectic, and with an owner who is interesting, knowledgeable and can make you split your sides.
The contents are too much to describe here. From mint-shape Gordie Howe Kellogg Cornflakes boxes ($10, now half price), to 1954 Dionne quintuplets calendars (half off from $35), to 1920s banjo tuners (half off $5), old axe heads, bed pans and one of those Black Flag spray cans with malathion for mosquitoes our moms tried to kill us with by spraying into our rooms at night.
An anecdote is attached to many items. For example, she has a shelf of old-fashioned meat grinders: they clamp to a table, have a crank on the side and a funnel on top where the meat or other produce enters. "There used to be 150 on the back wall" she bought in a going-out-of-business sale, she recalled. A customer expressed interest in buying one and said she would be back in a few days. When she returned, they were all gone. "She said, ‘You had 150 of the buggers.’ A restaurant chain from Duluth (Minn.) was decorating their restaurants and took all of them."
She’s stocked items for about a dozen movies and TV shows, the most recent being The Pinkertons TV series, shot at Grosse Isle, and the movie Silence of the North.
"Everything has a story," Proden likes to say about her merchandise. Another thing she likes to say, at least to a furiously scribbling reporter, is "Don’t put that in there," causing the pen to go skidding across the page. Some of the "Don’t put that in there" is the best stuff, but you’ll have to visit Proden personally to hear it.
Her story goes like this. She was in her mid 40s when her husband contracted Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t work. They literally had no food on the table and were too proud to go on welfare, so she tried selling items from her late mother-in-law’s estate at a flea market. She made $385, kept $200 for food and $185 to reinvest. She started buying and selling from her garage.
But she needed a proper shop. She applied for a bank mortgage and was denied. She kicked up a storm and refused to leave. She could see the tellers becoming uncomfortable. The bank manager finally told her if she didn’t stop, he would have her removed. She didn’t stop. The RCMP forcibly removed her.
That evening over supper, the banker told his wife what happened. The bank manager’s wife was outraged. She contacted Proden and told her she would lend her the money herself.
It’s a true story. She lent Proden $25,000. Junk for Joy was born. Proden paid off her private loan within three years, and she sent the bank manager’s wife poinsettias every Christmas.
She doesn’t usually make a scene, she said. "I was just desperate. Just because I’m a woman, don’t play head games with me. You’ll loan someone else money, but you won’t lend money to me."
"Do you believe in God?" she asked. Then she told me the rest of the story. There was a destitute man next door for whom she cooked supper every day for 15 years. "When you’re cooking for five (her husband and their three children), it’s just as easy to cook for a sixth," she said.
The man died with $3,000 to his name. He left $1,000 to his brother, $1,000 to pay his funeral, and $1,000 to Proden. That was the $1,000 she borrowed against. "I believe that $1,000 came from God," she said.
Junk for Joy, a seasonal business, will be open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Proden’s stock is sold, or unless she gets a single offer to buy the stock, building and land.
Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues for going on two decades.
Updated on Friday, May 15, 2015 at 6:31 AM CDT: Moves slideshow to top
9:45 AM: Adds store hours, adds missing text