During the Colonial Era, a pineapple was a sign of wealth and welcoming. People would display a pineapple on their dinner table to impress their friends while sea captains would display a pineapple in their front yard when they returned home from sea. This was a subtle way to inform their family and friends that they have returned home safely and are ready for visitors.
John McAuliffe and his wife were inspired by the sign of the pineapple during the Colonial Era that they named their business after it. Although Sign of the Pineapple in Williamston doesn’t have a pineapple on display outside its store, it welcomes visitors seven days a week.
John McAuliffe said he enjoys managing Sign of the Pineapple because he enjoys talking to people.
“A lot of people live by themselves, they don’t have friends, they don’t go to church and they’ll come in and talk,” McAuliffe said. “We provide a service I guess. It has nothing to do with the financial aspect of the business; it’s something else.”
Although many people would classify Sign of the Pineapple as an antique store for its old, vintage items, McAuliffe said “nostalgia is a better term.”
“There’s no such thing as an antique piece,” McAuliffe said. “Antique is an adjective. You can’t have ‘an antique.’ Most of the stuff we sell is nostalgia. People want something they had or wanted to have when they were 10 years old.”
McAuliffe and his wife started their business in 1975 after McAuliffe returned home from the Army. At the time, his job “did not pay as much as unemployment,” so he and his wife relocated to Williamston, bought a house and opened a booth at a flea market to earn extra money.
When they first started, they sold anything that people would buy. This is a tactic they still use to this day.
“Buying is fun for me, but in order to continue buying, I have to be able to sell it,” McAuliffe said.
Sign of the Pineapple has seven dealers that sell various items in the store, including comic books, tools, dolls and furniture.
Diana Baxter is a vendor who began selling furniture at Sign of the Pineapple because she wanted her furniture business to get more exposure. She and her husband run their business out of their home in Webberville and have seen an increase in traffic since they started selling furniture in Sign of the Pineapple.
“We were in one of the other [stores] in town for a while and didn’t really sell anything, so we thought we’d try it here,” Baxter said. “I enjoy working here, meeting people, talking to people and reminiscing about our childhoods.”
While there aren’t strict criteria to become a dealer at Sign of the Pineapple, McAuliffe said he looks for people who are honest and have products that will sell.
“There are some things we know are not going to sell well, and sometimes we’ll discourage people, because you’ve got to pay rent,” McAuliffe said. “I’ll tell people, ‘I don’t think you’re going to make enough selling [these items] to pay your rent.’ There’s no sense in paying rent all the time if you’re not making any money.”
Although online shopping has increased in the past decade, McAuliffe isn’t worried about his store, and he’s certain that nostalgic stores will be around in years to come.
“There are some people who want to touch something or want to see what it’s like,” McAuliffe said. “You have to have a niche.”
Bette Bottaro and her husband visit Sign of the Pineapple twice a year. She has bought something for each of her five grandchildren, and on one particular day, she purchased a set of Peter Rabbit items for her youngest grandson because “Peter Rabbit represents an innocent time in life.” Bottaro is fond of vintage items because they don’t change, but also because they remind her of her heritage.
“The concept that I run by is that if you do not know where you come from, how do you know the direction you’re going to go?” Bottaro said.