PALMER — Bill Lowe is still standing, looking like a true survivor after several long years battling a serious lung condition.
“The lungs are working really good. It was a miracle, literally. I’m a walking miracle. I know it. I’m here for a reason on this earth,” Lowe said.
Lowe is back in Alaska and working to get back to business doing what he loves best, finding and selling unique treasures while meeting new people and catching up with familiar faces at his shop off the Glenn Highway, Bill’s Country Antiques.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, more fun than you can possibly imagine. It’s like I‘ve been on a treasure hunt for about the last 26 years,” Lowe said.
Lowe’s iconic antique shop is instantly recognizable to most locals. It attracted countless Alaskans and tourists alike every summer before Lowe had to shut down to pursue treatment for his Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a chronic lung disease that causes scar tissue build-up and subsequent breathing difficulty among other serious health issues.
Lowe eventually received a double-lung transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“When I got the lungs put in, the doctor said, ‘Bill, you had two days left.’ That’s how close I cut it, and it’s been a battle since then,” Lowe said. “I got down to 120 pounds. I was just down to skin and bones. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get out of bed almost... I just started getting better.”
Lowe said the shop has been closed for about four years, but he’s eager to get back as soon as he recovers to a manageable level. He said that he wasn’t walking a year ago. Now that he’s walking around and feeling better each day, he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to reopen his shop soon.
“I’m not ready to run a marathon,” Lowe said with a laugh. “I just need to get a little healthier… I’m getting around pretty good. Each day, I get better. I just keep a positive attitude.”
Lowe first opened his shop in 1996. He said that he’s been collecting antiques since he was 18 years old.
“I got married… I had a house full of antiques and she said I had to get rid of all this,” Lowe said with a laugh. “I bought this piece of property and opened it up… I’ve found a lot of neat stuff over the years.”
Lowe said it took a couple of years to really get off the ground, but once he did, he built up a strong following that persists to this day.
“I have lots of clientele, I mean thousands of people. Almost every day people come in and want to know,’ when are you going to open? I want to get in there,’” Lowe said.
Lowe noted that he’ll sell the property if his health doesn’t improve enough, but he’s confident that he won’t have to do that with his son, William Jr. at his side. He said that William Jr. started helping around the shop when he was about 10 years old.
“He probably knows more about antiques than the average adult,” Lowe said with a laugh.
William Jr.’s help didn’t stop at the shop. He’s been caring for his father throughout his illness, despite losing his mother, Paula, to brain cancer when he was 5 years old.
“She was a beautiful lady,” Lowe said.
Lowe said that words can’t describe how proud he is of his son’s mature and empathetic journey. He’s 15 years old now and continues helping out wherever he can.
“I just had to win this battle with these lungs because I couldn’t leave my son alone,” Lowe said. “I’ve been fighting ever since… My son is what keeps me going.”
Lowe said that he’s hoping to reopen by the start of June when tourism typically picks up. He noted that he may end up being open just four days a week.
He said that in addition to the invaluable support from his son, he’s also surrounded by family and friends, further fueling his determination to push forward.
“I don’t ever give up on nothing,” Lowe said with a laugh. “I’m real lucky when it comes to family and friends.”
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com