Face Time: James Barrett, spreading whimsy through Widdershins


NORWAY – James Barrett, a Westbrook resident who recently opened an antique and vintage item store called Widdershins on Main Street here, said that when he began organizing his items and putting them on display, he was shooting for something “whimsical,” akin to something you’d “find on Diagon Alley” from the Harry Potter series.

That sense of whimsy and fun comes across from the moment you walk through the front doors. Vintage tea sets sit side by side with old figurines, and Barrett’s own self-described “steampunk art” is frequently nestled between antiques created decades earlier.

“Maybe it’s not what you’d expect out of an antique shop, but that’s what I like,” Barrett said. “I want people to come in, and rather than looking quietly through the antiques, I want them to pick them up and enjoy them and tell me what they think of them. I like to find out what makes certain items I’ve tracked down attractive to people.”

Name: James Barrett

Age: 41

Town: Westbrook

For people who may not be familiar with the word and its origin, can you explain what “widdershins” is? It’s an old, kind-of-antiquated word meaning “against the sun” or, before time pieces were invented, “counter clockwise.” I thought it was a fun play on words for turning back time, and tying it in with vintage and antique items.

How did you decide that you wanted to open an antique store? Have you done anything like this before? I’ve always had an appreciation for older vintage items. Growing up, my father did metal scrapping, and we’d go to yards and bring things home with us and almost never threw things away. I had an appreciation for keeping older items and either refurbishing them into something reusable or fixing them. That grew into me shopping for older things.

I’ve done indoor and outdoor flea markets over the years. I enjoyed the outdoor flea markets because I can be outside and interact with the customers, but that’s a seasonal thing. I’ve been looking for a place for a while now that I can plant my roots, a place that I can really get into and make my own.

You’re from Westbrook, but decided to open a store here in Norway. What made you chose someplace so far away from where you live? It was totally random. I was passing through Norway and I saw a couple of different places that were available. I happened to come across this building before the “For Sale” sign was even in the window. I talked with the property manager, and he showed me the place. It was a fit.

As I was doing construction and renovations on the building, I liked the quaint style and the old architecture of the building itself and the surrounding area. It all adds to the selling of antiques and the atmosphere that the people enjoy when they’re shopping for antiques or vintage items.

What are some of the more unique items you’ve found since opening the store? I mean, there’s so much that I’ve found. It’s hard to say. I do like the things that are handmade. All the time, I find things that are unique, and that’s what keeps it fun. It’s exciting, because I learn a new thing each time I find something that I didn’t have before.

When I have free time, I’ve been driving onto roads that I don’t know where they end up. I’ll stop by local businesses to introduce myself and familiarize myself with local shop owners and people. It helps give me an idea of what people are looking for and what people want in the store. I would cater my shop to the local interests.

Are there certain types of antiques that you like more than others, or antiques that you get excited to come across? For me, it’s vintage toys. I like the mid-century modern style of antiques. The back area of my store is designed as a rustic, country kitchen decor, and I think that room puts a lot of people at ease and makes them feel comfortable. It feels like you’re going into an old family home or something. I like the items to be placed in a way so that it looks like the area is lived in.

What’s your process, in terms of tracking this down? Do you get people giving you tips, or do you just explore a lot? I learned a lot by talking with other vendors. There are some older vendors who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and I try to absorb any knowledge that they can give me about antiques. Some of it is finding out what’s popular in the market, which you can gauge by shopping online. I have my own taste for things. I try to shop for things that I enjoy myself. That way, if it doesn’t sell, I’m still happy living with them.

I haven’t been open hardly a week now, and I’ve already had a half-dozen people come in looking to sell items, and some people are looking to find the value of something. I’m happy to help them with that. I’ve been happy to meet the people in the surrounding area, not being native to this town. It’s been a fun experience.

Talk a little bit about the “steampunk” art that you make. How did you get involved with it? I was basically going through a gallery with my girlfriend, and we were noticing some steampunk art that we had never been exposed to before. I’ve always been mechanically inclined and was able to reverse engineer the actual components on the sculptures. I thought, “This is out of my price range, but not out of my skill range.”

I set out trying to track down and collect all of the parts to assemble one of the sculptures as a gift for my girlfriend. She was very interested in them. I started making them as gifts for friends and family.

Over time, while hunting for parts for my projects, I was finding all sorts of other goodies and antiques and things that fascinated me. I brought them home, and they started to accumulate. That was when I decided to try my first flea market. I tried to flip some of the items to make room for new things that I wanted to enjoy.

The art and the antique store all sort of melded together all at once. One doesn’t seem like it would be connected to the other, but that’s how it happened.

Do you have a vision of where you want the store (and your art) to go in the near future? I’ve been really busy with the shop lately, but as soon as things are leveled off and I feel like I’m within my comfort zone running the store, I plan to exhibit and bring in more of my art to the store, and feature art from other friends and people I’ve met over the course of attending flea markets.

I’m really excited about creating new displays for the store. I try to use an artist’s eye to create the displays and put things together. I’ve been fascinated with the old storefront displays and how they were constructed in the ’50s and ’60s, the craftiness of how things were arranged.

Any hobbies or activities you do in your free time? I enjoy camping and riding motorcycles. I have an hour commute to get from my home to the store, and once the weather is nice, it won’t be such a bad thing when I’m able to enjoy the scenery and ride up here on a motorcycle.

James Barrett, 41, of Westbrook recently opened Widdershins Antiques at 329 Main St. in Norway. Barrett said he wanted to bring a sense of whimsy to his store.