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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — One couple here decided to turn a favorite pastime into a specialized business endeavor.

Although many Pacific bases hold periodic bazaars, most of which feature antique Asian furniture, few boast full-time antique retail operations. Now, Iwakuni has just such a store in Finders Keepers Antiques.

Former Air Force officer George Timothy Theis came to Iwakuni when his wife Linda was hired as a counselor at Matthew C. Perry Elementary School in August 2002. But for several years prior to moving to Iwakuni, he served as a professor in Europe, developing a keen interest in art and European antiques.

When the couple arrived in Japan, they quickly realized the air station had very little to interest people who enjoy antiques, according to Jamie Wurdinger, a Marine Corps Community Services spokeswoman.

So Theis created his own antique business, and Finders Keeper Antiques opened to the base community in March. He has an extensive background dealing with antiques, Wurdinger explained.

In 1981, he opened his own antique shop in Leadville, Colo., also called Finders Keepers, and specializing in Asian antiques. At Iwakuni’s Finders Keepers, he makes authentic antique oriental furniture and accessories available, at competitive prices, to all servicemembers and their families.

“The shop is a great asset to those who lack the time or means to find remote Japanese antique markets, or those who feel too intimidated to shop in town for antiques,” Theis said.

Japanese antique dealers consider any item prior to 1950 to be antique. At Finders Keepers, the available items are from the late Edo Period to the late Taisho period (late 1800s-1926). The inventory includes traditional wood block prints, shin hanga (contemporary wood block prints), furniture, porcelain, pottery, fabrics, lanterns, bamboo baskets, cast iron teapots, bronze artifacts and artwork, Wurdinger said.

She added that Theis plans to soon begin carrying European and American art, rugs, antiques, as well as original, limited edition, pencil-signed etchings from around the world.

“There are a lot of unique, beautifully kept items at this store,” said shopper Bunny Clark.

“The prices really shocked me,” she said after buying two wooden obi rods, used to store and display kimono sashes, priced at $10 each. “They were so tempting. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the price correctly.”

“I can’t believe the variety of items in the store,” said Sgt. Luis Zavala, who stopped by to browse. “Everything looks impressive.”

Finders Keepers Antiques is sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services. It’s been open less than a month but business is good, Wurdinger said.

“Within the first seven days of opening, half of the store’s wooden hand-carved book plates from the Edo period were sold,” Theis said. “We’ve had many customers and I’ve received numerous compliments on the store.”

New items are brought in weekly; Theis works with dealers and wholesalers from around the world.

Wurdinger said Theis plans to conduct free antique seminars on a bimonthly basis.

“I want to give customers the opportunity to learn more about the pieces they own in a comfortable setting,” Theis said. “We will discuss the history, art and construction of items they bring in and how it relates to the value.”

He added that the seminars also would cover topics such as how to bid at an auction, how to care for an item properly, what constitutes an antique and how to differentiate between reproductions and authentic pieces.

Theis submitted a proposal to MCCS to open Finders Keepers, Wurdinger said. After it was approved, MCCS Services Manager Bob Kane coordinated the set-up, building maintenance and training.

Based on Iwakuni bazaar sales, “an antique store conveniently located on the air station would provide our customers a unique shopping venue,” Kane said.

Theis continues to operate the Colorado version of Finders Keepers, Wurdinger said.

The Iwakuni store is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and by chance or appointment Saturday through Monday.

For more information, Theis can be reached at the store at 253-5725.

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