Discover Vintage America April 2012
An Antiquing Explosion
A mulitude of antique and collectible venues has helped breathe new life into Kansas City's historic West Bottoms
by Leigh Elmore
The snow was coming down in fat wet flakes on the morning of March 2, the first Friday of the month. Nevertheless, a swarm of drivers were jockeying to be Kansas City's most creative car parkers down in the old West Bottoms neighborhood. A late winter snowfall and lots of muddy puddles couldn't keep a horde of dedicated antique collectors, dealers and old-fashioned customers away from what has become one of the hottest antiques and collectibles markets in the Midwest.
Judging from the traffic it seemed as if everyone in Kansas City, if not the Midwest, had rediscovered the West Bottoms, at least on that first weekend in March. That's when approximately 150 antique and collectibles dealers set up shop in several antique markets that operate monthly, located among a growing number of permanent retail shops and art galleries in the area. They'll do it again April 6-8.
Driving into this historic commercial district is like taking a journey back 100 years to the days when the Kansas City Stockyards – formerly just a few blocks to the south – was still the biggest economic force in this city. At that time the area bisected by West 12th Street was a dense hive of brick streets, large warehouses and manufacturing operations such as the John Deere Plow Company and the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. The giant meatpackers, Armour and Swift, were in full production and the nearby Union Depot was still Kansas City's bustling train station.
But a series of disastrous floods in the 20th century and the economic evolution of the country sent most of the large businesses elsewhere, and for decades the vitality of the West Bottoms withered away along with the public's growing disregard for old buildings and streetscapes. Small businesses continued to occupy spaces in some of the buildings keeping a pulse going. But most people in Kansas City only went to the West Bottoms to get spooked at one of the Halloween haunted houses that sprang up in the last 20 years or to attend the annual American Royal livestock show or a sporting event at nearby Kemper Arena. It seemed as if Kansas City had turned its back on its original commercial center.
In the sense that nature abhors a vacuum, one could bet that blocks and blocks of fallow buildings would eventually capture the attention of artists and antique dealers. What's more, by 2005 the gentrification cycle had run its course in Kansas City's trendy Crossroads Arts District, pricing out younger artists and smaller businesses. A look over the river bluff into the West Bottoms revealed fertile territory and more affordable space for creative types.
Today it's hard to keep up with the West Bottoms' growing number of businesses and art spaces. So if you're interested in searching for just the right treasure or getting to know antique dealers personally, the first weekend of every month you will want to be among the "in crowd" at Kansas City's West Bottoms antiquing phenomenon.
A Word of Mouth Explosion
For a little more than two years Gwen McClure has been operating Bottoms Up Antique Market, which now is the largest of the antique markets in the West Bottoms with 65 dealers on board. She admits to being surprised at how business has grown during that time.
"We started out in another location and our original concept was a typical flea market, where dealers could set out their 'low hanging fruit' or things they just wanted to get rid of. We all were selling a lot of five- and ten-dollar items," McClure says. "But a lot of flea markets have come and gone."
Bottoms Up occupies the second and third floors of the old Stowe Hardware building at 1300 W. 13th St. An iron stairway wraps around an old elevator shaft enclosed only by a metal grating. The floors are broad expanses supported by huge wooden beams that are still as strong as steel.
McClure and some other dealers, notably Rich Hoffman and Christopher Filley, began discussing ways to improve business for everyone involved and to create more of a "scene" where there's more urgency to buy.
"We soon came up with the idea of holding a monthly antiques show where dealers would bring their 'new' stuff in," McClure says. "As dealers we kind of just banded together and it sure seems to be working. Today we have 65 active dealers and a waiting list to get in." And that tends to draw the crowds.
At Bottoms Up, dealers or their representatives must keep their own tills, unlike the central checkout stations at many antique malls where the individual dealers often are not present. So customers get the opportunity to ask questions of the sellers as well as a chance to see a lot of merchandise at one time.
"We have found that people tend to buy more in an atmosphere like this rather than in a traditional shop setting," McClure says. "We have people who make a point to come every month. And now we're getting visitors from nearby cities such as Omaha, Topeka and Manhattan."
Dealer to Dealer Transactions
Rich Hoffman helped McClure in the early stages of the enterprise and as one of the "senior" dealers was able to nab some prime space in a corner of the third floor. "I'm in the corner office and it's great to be involved. It's a lot of fun and we even make some money in the process." He notes that there are quite a few dealer-to-dealer sales at Bottoms Up and it's not uncommon to see a particular piece go up in price at it makes its way around the horn. "We're all competing for the same stuff, but we all use this as an opportunity to network with each other, and in a way we are cooperating with each other at the same time," he says.
McClure says about a third of the dealers at Bottoms Up have retail stores elsewhere. Meeting customers in the market helps to draw them back to the main store. For example, Binky and Dave Still own Still Antiques located in the Mission Road Antiques Mall in suburban Prairie Village, KS. But once a month they ply their trade at Bottoms Up. "People are slowly realizing what's going on down here," Binky says. "I think we're seeing a resurgence at least in our business."
Patti Allen is the proprietor of Bella Patina at 1324 W. 12th St., another crowded monthly antiques market. "It is simply exploding," Allen observes. "I've never seen anything take off like this before. Not long ago lots of people didn't even know that the West Bottoms existed. Now they come down every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the first weekends."
She believes that holding the markets on a monthly basis helps to create more of a feeling of an event.
"I started coming here as a customer a couple of years ago," Allen says. She caught the bug and started a business specializing in Shabby Chic style. So on top of that she's running a thriving market that will expand to 36 dealers when she opens the second floor of her building April 6-7, the first anniversary for Bella Patina.
The newest of the multi-dealer markets at four months old is Nook & Cranny located in the old Post Office at 1231 Union Ave. A total of 13 vendors operate there with more on a waiting list, says owner Tricia Henney. "We used to participate in a lot of shows but we got tired of schlepping our stuff. So we opened our own place," she says. "The West Bottoms area has been a revelation for a lot of people and the antiques business is directly responsible. People seem really happy to be here and lots are spending their entire days down here on sale weekends. And we love to meet the people," Henney says.
The once monthly schedule rules the antiques trade in the bottoms. Just a few shops are open every day. Patrick Ottesen, owner of Foundation Architectural Reclamation, is one of the exceptions keeping regular business hours. "I've been down here for more than six years. In fact, one of the first vintage markets, Urban Bazaar, was founded in vacant space on Foundation's second floor," he says. Most of those vendors are still participating at the other markets. "Six years ago you could hardly get people to come down here. Now the traffic is just unbelievable," Ottesen says. Of course, he and the other shops benefit from the influx of buyers each month.
Trish Moore, owner of Good JuJu, is one of those pioneer vendors involved with Urban Bazaar. She founded Good JuJu a couple of years ago and will re-open in April in new space at 1420 W. 13th Terr., three blocks south of her old location. Moore rounds up 28-30 dealers each month for her very popular venue. "My first exposure to the West Bottoms was October 2007," she says of being an early influence. "Now I can't keep up with everybody who's moving down here."
Leigh Elmore can be reached at email@example.com.
West Bottoms Antique Markets
of the Month
The second floor should be open for the April 6-7 market weekend. Up to 35 dealers whose inventory comes from an eclectic range of places and time periods. Find decorating items, rescued architectural pieces and repurposed furniture. 1324 W. 12th St. www.bellapatinakc.com
Bottoms Up At least 65 dealers participate in the monthly vintage market encompassing two full floors of the massive old Stowe Hardware building. There's also a café that serves coffee and snacks. 1300 W. 13th St. They're available on Facebook.
Listed as one of the "best vintage sales from coast to coast" by Flea Market magazine and certainly one of the favorite stops of smart collectors. Plus, it has plenty of free parking at its new location. 1420 W. 13th Terrace. http://goodjuju.com
Located on the fourth floor of the old Stowe Hardware building, above Bottoms Up. 1300 W. 13th St. Check Hello Sailor's Facebook page for more information.
Entering the West Bottoms scene this month and planning an outdoor flea market in May. 1107 Hickory St. Look for Hickory Dickory on Facebook.
James Street Antiques
Open Tuesday-Saturday and on Sunday during first weekends. Located at 208 North James St., a half mile west of the main antiquing activity. www.jamesstreetantiques.com
Liberty Belle Vintage Experience
Liberty Belle is located in the middle of the West Bottoms' "Vintage Strip" with 5,000 sq. ft. of showroom space for dealers of vintage furniture, architectural salvage, antiques, mid-century modern and re-purposed industrial treasures. 1320 W. 12th St. www.libertybellekc.com
Nook & Cranny
Located in an old Post Office, Nook & Cranny offers items from all ages including antique, vintage, retro- and repurposed furniture, home décor items, jewelry, gifts and more. 1231 Union Ave. See their Facebook page.
One Man's Treasure
Specializing in antique furniture and one of a kind items. Open every Saturday as well as first weekends. 1300 W. 13th St.
All the Re's add up to the ultimate in repurposed vintage collectibles and antiques, farmhouse to urban chic. 1300 W. 13th St. Find them on Facebook.
A surprisingly enlightened West Bottoms shop. 1417 W. 11th St. www.repurpose.com
Antiques, vintage, art, musical, lighting, electronics, the unusual and more. 1200 W. 12th St. Check their page on Facebook.
KCPT Appraisal Fair
Bring up to three items for evaluation and appraisal to Kansas City Public Television’s Appraisal Fair, Saturday, April 21, 2012, at the Overland Park Convention Center, 6000 College Blvd., Overland Park, KS. Auctioneer Jason Roske will be one of the show hosts. For more information, visit http://kcpt.org.
Antiques the subject of new reality show
The National Geographic Channel will host a new, 10-episode reality series on antiques in America’s Lost Treasures,” beginning Monday, March 5. Kansas City’s historic Union Station and Missouri Town, along with auctioneer Jason Roske, will be featured in one of the shows. Played like a game show, participants could be eligible for a $10,000 award and inclusion in a future National Geographic exhibit. For more information, visit http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/america-s-lost-treasures.
International Society of Appraisers