The gloom of a rainstorm and an icy pelting of hail couldn't dissuade excited antique lovers from pursuing their passion.

In early February, Victor Valley's newest and largest antique emporium, the 8,000-square-foot Carriage House Antiques on Hesperia Road, was officially opened for business. Despite the uninvited inclement weather, the public response was thunderous.

"It was so busy you couldn't find a space in the parking lot," said Paul Mariano, who developed and designed the sprawling store with his wife Bunny Lynn.

Over the next few weeks the customers kept coming.

"We've exceeded our projections in sales," Mariano said two weeks after the store's opening.

Diehard antique shoppers themselves, the Marianos decided to put their money where their hearts were, and almost four years ago they bought a parcel of land on the west side of Hesperia Road, about a mile south of Bear Valley Road.

"Instead of a 401K or putting it in the stock market, we put it in a building," Bunny Lynn said.

They bought the land just before the boom of the middle 2000s when Victor Valley parcel values skyrocketed. Despite the ensuing crash, however, the land value decline hasn't hurt the Marianos.

"It's still worth more than we paid for it," said Paul Mariano, 51, an auto interior specialist.

The Marianos also designed the building so that in the distant future it could easily be partitioned into five distinct business suites.

"We're trying to plan ahead."

Carriage House Antiques broke ground in April of last year -  as the local, state and national economies were falling apart. But it was too late to turn back.

"You reach a point of no return. Regardless of the economy you have to go forward," he said.

But the Marianos created a store that offers more than just a collection of antiques, collectibles, fine furniture and other items. The store is also becoming a place for people to relax and hang out.

"I didn't want to have a business just for the sake of a business. I have a passion for this," said Bunny Lynn Mariano. "And I want it to be a gathering place."

At one end of the store, there are tables and complimentary tea with real china teacups. A walk through the store's long pathways reveals expected, and some unexpected, items. There are china dinner plates and silverware, paintings and other artwork, wall-hangings and cranberry glassware. For the male antique shoppers, Paul's "Mantique" area at the opposite end features old fishing lures, soda bottles and more. And because most of the items are formerly owned, the cost to the consumer is less - sometimes significantly less - than if they were purchased elsewhere.

"It's like having 30 different stores in a store," she said. "It has a community feel."

The reception has been so positive that there's a waiting list for new vendors who also want to rent space and sell their wares.

"We could not have done this by ourselves," she said. "The 30-plus vendors we have now, it's like a family."

The Marianos' faith in opening the business isn't blind. They believe that God gave them the vision that they are merely following.

"We're Christians," Bunny Lynn Mariano said. "With God all things are possible. That really is the truth."

Carriage House Antiques is located at 11370 Hesperia Road, Hesperia. For more information, call 948-5577.