Auburn antique store goes bananas on Main Street

Auburn has known its share of fame: after all, it's the native place of Yami Yogurt and the childhood home of astronaut Dick Scobee and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Auburn has known its share of fame: after all, it’s the native place of Yami Yogurt and the childhood home of astronaut Dick Scobee and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

But did you know the city also is one of the beating hearts of world-banana consciousness, ground zero to the second-largest collection of banana artifacts and memorabilia on the planet?

Yes indeed, and much of it is there to see in the Washington Banana Museum on Main Street, just inside Bananas Antiques and 2nd Hand Goods.

Top banana of this unusual museum is curator Ann Mitchell Lovell, a bona fide scholar of banana arcana. The Auburn woman, who holds a job as a library technician at Green River Community College, has put together a whimsical, weird and often serious collection of nearly 4,000 items tied to the banana – from folk art, packaging and advertisements to porcelain figurines and cultural oddities.

Bananaphiles will find fascinating historical and up-to-date items to slake their interest, from 19th century photos showing people in their Sunday finest eating bananas, to dancing banana figurines and windup toys and giant inflatable bananas.

Lovell has collected sheet music offering tributes to the fruit, with titles like “I like Bananas Because They Have No Bones.” There’s “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” and its rejoinder, “I’ve got the ‘Yes We Have no Bananas’ Blues,” showing a man with hands clapped over his ears.

There are beaded banana evening purses, banana necklaces and earrings, old timey postcards of banana plantations, banana teapots and banana banks, and salt and pepper shakers.

And look, a can of banana soda. Never heard of it? Well, there’s a darn good reason.

“It bombed,” Lovell said of the beverage in the pretty yellow can. “The maker tried to give it to charities and charities gave it back; nobody liked it.”

Lovell rattles off interesting facts about the fruit. For instance, did you know the banana was first introduced to this country at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, and at that time, an individual, foil-wrapped banana would set its buyer back 10 cents? And did you know that immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were given bananas to eat, and that many had never seen them and didn’t know how to eat them so they gulped the whole thing, peel and all?

And did you know that the average American eats about 28 pounds of bananas every year?

Even as a child, Lovell knew her calling. Her parents called her Anna Banana. But it wasn’t until a trip to Hawaii with a college roommate in 1980 that she began to assemble her collection of banana artifacts.

“We found a bar there called Anna’s Bannanas, and I bought a T-shirt with its logo,” Lovell said. “Over time, I started finding banana things and saving them. Friends began noticing and would also seek out banana stuff. Though I never really intended to collect bananas, the collection just came in a bunch.”

When she moved into a house on K Street she had a room she could devote to bananas, and things just kept rolling.

“I went crazy on eBay and found lots of things on the East Coast I couldn’t find on the West Coast. But there’s stuff here from all over the world, from Belgium, Australia, England, Portugal, all kinds of places,” Lovell said.

Lovell had the collection in her home and open to the public for 15 years but stopped that in 2003. Then her boyfriend, Ben Bigford, decided he was going to open an antique shop.

“He said ‘I’ll give you space in there.’ We’ve been open for a month. Now, I’ve got a couple display cases.. and people can come in and see,” Lovell said.

In fact, Lovell has peeled off only a small portion of her vast collection for public display. To sample some of the rest, slip into her Web site at Her most unusual find is there: a large, three-stringed fiberglas banana bass instrument. She doesn’t know who made it or anything of its history, though she suspects it was a movie prop.

Lovell not only loves collecting banana memorabilia, she eats the fruit.

“One a day,” Lovell said between bites. “They’re good for you.”



What: Washington Banana Museum.

Where: 120 E. Main St.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.