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Kristen Bell and her husband, James, owners of Bells and Whistles in Randsburg, sell whatever tickles Kristen’s fancy. / Laura Austin Photo

Find this and that at Bells and Whistles in Randsburg

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff  Writer–

Randsburg is situated in the mountains off Highway 395. Take the drive, go up a piece on the little mountain road, and enter the Old West Mining Town of Randsburg. There you can step back in time through a Living Ghost Town. You will find original buildings, interesting shops, great food, great stories, a museum filled to the brim, and a saloon.

Up at 164 Butte Avenue, you will find a little bit of this and that at Bells and Whistles. Kristen Bell co-owns this shop with her husband, James Bell; however, the store is her creation, and although, as a good husband, James helps with the heavy lifting, Kristen is the heart and soul of the shop. “The store itself and the vision behind the store and the vision behind the way that it looks in the way I interact with my customer, I do all of it. It’s all me,” says Kristen.  

Besides playing off their name, Kristen says, “I went with the name Bells and Whistles because I didn’t want people to think you’re only going to find one thing in there. I wanted it to be something where I could sell whatever tickles my fancy.” Kristen has been refinishing antique furniture for years and used to do it on consignment. She has some of her work in there. “I’ve always loved antiques.  I’ve always liked rustic things that could not be used for anything else, and I like creating new things from them.

“So when James and I got the opportunity to purchase that building, it struck a chord with me because I had always wanted to have my own little antique store. I grew up with my grandmother, going to antique stores, thrift stores, and estate sales. I wanted to offer something a little bit different than just your normal antique store that you would find in a little place. I wanted there to be nicer things. I wanted there to be things that were Randsburg-specific. I do Randsburg apparel, wine glasses, koozies, and all of those things because Randsburg is very much a location town.”

Kristen also allows others to showcase and sell their merchandise. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for other small businesses to expand their customer base. We get people from all over the world in Randsburg.  I’m up to 11 different vendors in my shop that provide all sorts of other things I don’t know how to make.”

Kristen is a Burroughs graduate; you may have known her as Kristen Lawson. She started going to Randsburg about ten years ago when she took her son to Old West Days. “There’s something about that little ghost town that you can’t necessarily put in words; you have to be there; you have to feel Randsburg, and you can’t just normally get that in just one day. But if you come more than once, there’s a feeling about Randsburg.  It’s not one particular thing. It’s not one particular person. For me, it’s become a place where my soul is at ease. I don’t want to see it die; there’s so much history here. And there are so many stories in Randsburg that if I can contribute just a smidgen to help keep the Randsburg story alive, then it’s a good day.”

There is quite a bit of remembered history about the building that houses Bells and Whistles. Built-in 1907, it was initially the Burg Saloon. The store is in the original part of the building and is adobe. In the back is a room that was an ice house. Sometime between 1928 and 1930, a cafe was added. It wasn’t successful as a saloon, so the doctor’s wife, Madeline Hall, purchased the building for a little something to keep her busy. She named the business Madeline Hall’s Fancy Goods and Notions. Her sister, Bertie, operated the cafe. The actual dates have yet to be discovered, but Madeline eventually lost her eyesight, and her sister closed the cafe and took over Fancy Goods.

In the late 1940s, Eldora and Arland Purington purchased the store. “They were the longest-standing merchants in Randsburg,” says Kristen. “They owned that building and the shop there until ‘97 or ‘98. They had a desert rock shop and then desert bottles. So inside my shop, I have a hutch that I store all my stuff in, and on top of it is one of the original signs that says Purington Desert Rocks Shop Bottles. I repainted it so you could see it again. But Arland did TV Repair out of there as well. So when we were doing the cleanup, there were all sorts of old tubes and stuff downstairs.

“They sold it to Doug and Carolyn Stoker, the people we purchased the building from. I know they ran an antique shop or a shop out of this smaller site for a while, but I think they mainly used it to store a lot of their personal collection. They liked to come to Randsburg they weren’t necessarily interested in running a business in Randsburg. They just liked to be in Randsburg and hang out.”

Bells and Whistles have their share of ghost stories. “When we did the remodel, I spent a lot of time in there by myself,” says Kristen. “We had to run all new electrical. We put in recessed lighting. We had to completely replace the ceiling because there had been water damage. So we have recessed cans that run up on the top. There is a chandelier that Doug and Carolyn had brought in there from another place. I loved how it looked and wanted to keep some of the things that had been in there for quite some time. So the chandelier is on the same circuit as the recessed cans. 

“The chandelier talks, like flickers, and the rest of the cans don’t do anything. I wouldn’t say that I’ve heard anything that anybody tries to talk to me, or I hear weird noises or that sort of thing.”

A medium came through her store who appeared to be a tourist. After talking to her, he told her he was a medium.  “He says they typically will find the higher electric sources, and that’s how they’ll often try to communicate. So some days, they won’t flicker at all.  Sometimes things will be moved. I’m the only one when I shut down and the only one in there when I reopen.

“I just built this enormous apparel wall out of used old pallets and some industrial pipe and cinder blocks. It happens to be sitting just to the side of a new electrical socket that we put in. I left for the weekend, and the whole thing was shifted over in front of my electrical sockets when I came back the following weekend.  That doesn’t make any sense to me. None of it makes sense. But they seem benevolent.

“They’re not evil by any means. We all talk to them frequently and say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m just trying to keep your story alive. That’s all I’m trying to do.’  Who can they be connected to? I have no idea. I did come across an old newspaper article talking about that there was a shooting in the Burg Saloon. So I don’t know if it could be related to that. Who knows?” she has no intention of reaching out to a ghost hunter to find out. She is happy to have these unseen but known visitors hang out. 

Bells and Whistles are open every weekend, sometimes for the long weekends and sometimes on flex Friday. 

Randsburg, California  – an Old West Mining Town, Living Ghost Town just up the road from Ridgecrest.