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BETTY BURKE: ANTIQUES AND A FRIENDLY FACE

Retirement beckons a San Antonio woman who's built a business with a small-town feel.

Betty Burke is sitting behind the counter at her antique store in a house built in 1885 by a man named Quigley. The house is two stories and thick, rock-solid pine. It's Wednesday afternoon and it's pouring outside, rain lashing madly, water swirling deep, the sky black. The house and its contents have survived generations. Inside it feels safe and cozy.

"I should have known it was going to rain," I say, squelching and dripping over to a chair beside Burke. "I actually did my hair this morning."

Burke laughs and then we get talking about hair. She says she gets hers done at Lookin' Good Salon, a short walk away.

"Is it expensive?" I ask.

Instead of answering, Burke grabs the red phone next to her. She knows everyone in this town and seems to have their numbers memorized. She doesn't need to say who she is or even hello. People know her voice.

"Sue! You're the one I wanted to talk to," she says and asks for prices. "Mmm-hmmm, okay. So it costs more to do highlights than a whole color? Okay, good. Thanks."

She makes these calls often during conversations.

"Pat, when was the first grave in the cemetery?" she asks a woman who works at the Catholic church. "Eighty-four or 85, that's what I thought."

(That's 1884 or 1885.)

Burke loves this small town and this house, which faces San Antonio's central park. The house's longest resident was a doctor named Bradshaw. He and his family lived here from 1919 to 1949. Bradshaw delivered Burke and the rest of the town's babies during that time.

Burke bought the house in 2000 with her husband, Bruce Calvert, and sister, Winnie Burke, and turned it into Park Place Antiques. Every day, Burke closes the shop for a little while and makes her rounds - she checks out the gossip at the post office next door and what the workers at City Hall have to say. Burke walks up to the Mexican restaurant and gets a sweet tea. They hand it to her without asking what she wants. Old friends who have moved away stop by the shop to visit. Burke sits on the old Southern-style porch and laughs and catches up.

Customers weave their way through the rooms teeming with history - paintings, furniture, jewelry, pottery, egg cups and dough boxes. Burke has learned to trust people. They come in and out without her watching them like a hawk.

She's only had a few bad experiences with shoplifters. One broke her heart - a father with both hands full. One held onto his son's hand. The other hand tried to smuggle out a small statue of an angel.

"An angel, of all things," Burke said. " 'Oooh,' I thought, 'God is going to get you for that.' "

Burke knows when customers hit the upstairs, with the costumes and clothes, shoes, hats, purses, feather boas, because they start giggling. Even little old ladies get girlish and can't stop themselves from trying on hats.

Burke is going to miss this. But she has made up her mind. She's selling and retiring. Burke is 64. Her husband is 58 and her sister is 59 - but both of them have other full-time jobs and just work part time at the shop. Burke is done working full time. It's not the actual shop that makes her weary. It's all the danged paperwork.

She's been working since she can remember - English teacher, social services, human resources, pastoral assistant. Antiques dealer. Wife. Mother of two adult children.

Burke will still dabble in antiques. She said she'll rent a space from someone in the area and that she might sell at a few shows. The woman who rents the upstairs for her vintage clothes will find a new place.

Burke is going to devote her time to her passion - volunteering. She already does so much with the town's events and festivals. She'd also like to volunteer in a day care or nursery.

She wants to read more mysteries. Maybe she'll write a book. Who knows? She wants a vacation. She loves the mountains of North Carolina.

"I'm ready," she says and smiles.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

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About this feature

Pasco People is a regular feature that will spotlight the people who make Pasco County the kind of community it is. Got someone you think we should profile? E-mail us at pasco@sptimes.com.

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