EVANSTON — Since June 15, 1997, the Antares Fossils and Minerals shop has been a staple of Evanston’s small-town atmosphere. The little rock shop on Front Street is decorated with large, custom-made dinosaur figures, as well as rock gardens and other whimsical décor.
However, although the atmosphere is itself a treasure, the true gems lie inside. The small shop is packed with rocks, minerals and fossils of all types, from little fish fossils, tumbled Brazilian agates and miniature rock-carved animals to a knee-high, 200-pound amethyst geode from Uruguay and very rare fish fossils both from the southwestern Wyoming area and from all over the world.
Owners Tony and Lily Breithaupt celebrated the occasion on Thursday, June 15, with an open house.
The Breithaupts took over the shop eight years ago from Robbie (Lily’s little brother) and Tamara DeJongh before Robbie died in 2012. Tamara had died in 2006. The DeJonghs opened and built the shop around Robbie’s love of everything to do with fossils and minerals, building the shop’s reputation and character in the 12 years they operated the store. In fact, Tony said, Robbie had a passion for rocks since the age of 10.
“It was kind of cool,” Lily said of the shop’s history, “because we still have pictures of when it was first opened, and like, empty shelves that just had one or two little things on it.”
The shop’s foundation is, of course, the nearby areas with fossils and minerals — particularly in the Wyoming Green River Formation. The Breithaupts, continuing the tradition of the DeJonghs before, used to go out frequently to excavate for new pieces. In fact, Tony said, he used to go out looking for rocks and fossils four to five days a week in his heyday.
Using pieces extracted locally, the Antares owners travel to shows all over to trade and buy and sell pieces. As a result, the shop is populated with fossils and minerals from all over the world — India, Romania, Bolivia, Mexico, China and more.
“Rockhounds are the best people in the world,” Tony said. “They bring me as much knowledge as I give them. … And all those fish in there, we’ve been digging for close to 20 years. And from all those, we get all this. Because we trade. We trade with Morocco and China and Australia — all the continents of the world.”
Tony remembers Robbie as an adventurer with a passion for fossils and minerals, an eye for art and a heart for those around him.
“He was a roughneck for the oilfield, so he did that for 27 years,” he said, “and he just had a knack, a sixth sense. He knew minerals like the back of his hand.”
Tony said that with Robbie’s expansive knowledge and his enormous library, people in a host of different scientific disciplines would seek him out.
Robbie was also the creator of the distinctive dinosaur figures in front of the store.
“He was a pretty good artist, and he would make them — see a picture of them and then just go ahead and build it,” Tony said, pointing out how the stegosaurus has rebar for bones and how the T-rex is made of fiberglass, chicken wire and rebar.
The shop also has a longstanding tradition of hosting schoolchildren for tours. Tony said that sometimes up to three busloads of kindergartners may troop through the store, but somehow nothing has ever gotten broken during those tours through Wyoming’s ancient history.
“And they’re all just wide-eyed and very curious,” he continued, “so we give them a little of how rocks are made and what some of the uses are for them ...”
Sometimes, Tony said, those same kids will return to the store several years later, yearning for more knowledge about the store’s offerings.
And over the course of the past eight years, the Breithaupts have added their own strengths and facets to the store. Lily, for instance, does Reiki (Japanese energy healing) for interested customers. She herself described working in the rock shop as enlightening and a wonderful development in her life.
“This is the most at peace I’ve ever felt in my heart,” she said.
Lily laughed, though, at the demographics of the Antares customers. For an area so densely populated with niche activities such as fossil hunting, most of the customers are from out of town, rather than those who have the daily opportunity in Uinta or Lincoln counties to seek out their own pieces of the Wild West and ancient history.
“You know it’s so funny, ‘cause we can’t grasp Evanston’s attention,” Lily said. “I mean, it’s like most of our customers come from, like, Salt Lake and all over the world, but actually from Evanston there are very few.”
The couple has especially enjoyed getting to meet and work with fellow rockhounds.
“[Rockhounds are] all passionate people,” Tony said. “They’re very passionate about adventure, finding things, and that usually leads to polishing, cutting and making things, jewelry, lapidary type things. And yeah, they’re never really ever in a bad mood when they come in here.”