Beyond the set of 19th-century puppets that will haunt your dreams and past the half-fish, half-shrunken-head "mermaid" that could give David Lynch waking nightmares, there's a warm, red glow coming from the neon sign in the back of Anastacia's Antiques that reads: "DEAD SOULS."

Some who wander into this Bella Vista shop swear they've found the door that leads to Narnia, or the rabbit hole down to Wonderland.

"Young people will come in and expect to find a book of spells from the 17th century or that ancient Chinese manuscript that will explain life to them," said owner Scott Evans. "We don't do anything to dispel those illusions. That's the idea — to build an environment and an experience."

What Evans and his wife, Anastacia Fahnestock, have built is uniquely Philly.

Souls — both living and dead — are welcome inside Anastacia’s Antiques in Bella Vista.
SYDNEY SCHAEFER / Staff Photographer
Souls — both living and dead — are welcome inside Anastacia’s Antiques in Bella Vista.

The South Philly couple have owned Anastacia's Antiques on the 600 block of Bainbridge Street since 1994. They met 40 years ago doing laundry as students at the Philadelphia College of Art — now the University of the Arts — where Fahnestock studied painting and Evans, sculpture.

The two soon learned they shared a love of the darker side of Victorian aesthetics — think more devils and death than cherubs and lace. Evans, 62, was also a "big trash picker" back in the '80s, so the two developed a collection of items quickly. The pre-Internet times — before people could easily look up the worth of an item and often just got rid of things — made selling easier, too.

"Nobody knew the rarity of [an object], but everybody was interested in it," Evans said.

The couple started by selling items at sidewalk sales and then worked for nine years out of Antiquarian's Delight, a now-shuttered antiques and vintage market on Sixth Street, before moving into their shop.

Anastacia Fahnestock and Scott Evans in October 1985, when they began selling goods out of Antiquarian’s Delight.
Anastacia Fahnestock and Scott Evans
Anastacia Fahnestock and Scott Evans in October 1985, when they began selling goods out of Antiquarian’s Delight.

Today, they get their items "from every source you can really imagine, legally," Fahnestock said. People bring them goods, they go to antique fairs, they go to house clean-outs, and they even plan vacations around shopping for the store.

"We learned not to buy in speculation of what somebody else is going to like," Fahnestock, 60, said. "We simply buy what we like and then if we're stuck with it we don't mind looking at it."

Scott Evans and Anastacia Fahnestock today in their Bella Vista store.
SYDNEY SCHAEFER / Staff Photographer
Scott Evans and Anastacia Fahnestock today in their Bella Vista store.

That's helped the couple adapt in the antiques market as other stores have faded into antiquity.

"The younger people are drawn to what we like. … I think it has something to do with being raised on the Gap and in these homogeneous towns," Fahnestock said. "I think they're craving something that has a little tooth to it."

Of course, if you're looking for teeth, Anastacia's has those for sale too. There's a large collection of dental veneers from the 1930s that sell for $1 a tooth.

Set-dressers for "Boardwalk Empire," "Beloved," and "Creed II," the next movie in the Rocky franchise, have purchased items in the shop. And the assistant to Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts once bought old handheld wooden percussion instruments for Watts to use on stage, Fahnestock said.

"There's an energy in here because we carry old stuff and it's not reproductions," she said.

Items for sale at Anastacia’s Antiques include (clockwise, from top left): One of a set of 19th century puppets; a Jacob’s Ladder; an 18th century Italian casket with a real skeleton inside.
Stephanie Farr
Items for sale at Anastacia’s Antiques include (clockwise, from top left): One of a set of 19th century puppets; a Jacob’s Ladder; an 18th century Italian casket with a real skeleton inside.

One of those original items is a letter from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to a Philly woman named Jean Veltin in 1948, inviting her to join the circus, so long as her "father is still willing." Papa Veltin must have given his OK, as Evans and Fahnestock also have Veltin's photo albums of her circus adventures.

"Probably the best moments come from knowing we are preserving history … which would have ended up in a dumpster and then been fully forgotten," Fahenstock said.

Why Philly?

Fahnestock: "I moved down to Philadelphia in 1976 to go to college. I went to the Philadelphia College of Art and studied painting. Philadelphia had everything that North Jersey did not have, in my book. … I met Scott while we were in school together and I graduated and I just never left."

What’s been a classic Philly moment for you?

Evans: "I don't have it. I don't have a classic Philly moment."

If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?

Fahnestock: "My wish for the city would be that they would recognize and …"

Evans: "Appreciate"

Fahnestock: "… appreciate the small businesses like ours that have made the city an interesting place to come."

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you'd like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

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