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Discover Mid-America —November 2005

Antiques, collectibles or crafts can fulfill holiday gift needs

Story and photos by Ken Weyand

 

Holiday gift buying creates a need for innovation. Well in advance of the holidays, retail shops bombard us with ads offering new products — many destined to be obsolete within a few months. Sometimes forgotten in the mix of a marketing blitz are shops and malls specializing in antiques, collectibles or crafts.


Decorated trees with Santas and snowmen bring a holiday atmosphere to Decorators’ Gallery and Craft Mall in St. Joseph, MO.

A tasteful, appropriate gift for someone with a flair for the eclectic can usually be found in an antique store, and often at a reasonable price. Old jewelry, architectural embellishments, Christmas ornaments, art glass, framed art and much more are waiting to be discovered with some creative browsing.

Do you have collectors on your gift list? Today’s antique shops are dominated by collectibles, from old advertising to vintage clothing, and about everything else in between. It is more than likely that many of your friends have a soft spot in their hearts for some of these collectible items.

There are treasures to be found in flea markets. Again, collectibles are often the buyer’s goal. Old toys, games and puzzles usually find their way to the “fleas,” with many items still in the original box. Old records, books and a variety of décor pieces can be found as well. What would appear to be “old junk” to the casual observer could be a thoughtful addition to a collection.

One of my daughters has a large collection of LP record albums, ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s. She’s the singer in a small group that features classic show tunes. From the albums, she learns new pieces and adds them to her repertoire. Most of her albums have come from flea markets and thrift shops.

An antique store might be the perfect place to find a gift that will delight an older relative who is likely to appreciate a bit of nostalgia, particularly an old family photo that’s getting a little faded and nicked around the edges.


Collectors of baseball memorabilia, especially St. Louis Cardinals items, will find a good selection at Riverview Mall in Ozark, MO.

Your neighborhood drug store probably offers a digital photo restoration service at a reasonable price. Depending on condition your photo probably can be digitally enhanced and enlarged to a standard 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 size. Then visit your nearest antique shop or mall for an antique frame. The result is a valuable keepsake and an innovative gift that never goes out of style.

Restoration can be an important component in making your holidays special. A few years ago, my older daughter admired a 1930’s Philco radio that my father-in-law had stored away in the back of a garage in Illinois. Although scuffed up a bit, and missing some trim molding, the old console still had an elegant look.

When his estate was being settled, I asked for the Philco and hauled it back to Kansas City. I found a collector of old radios who also restored them. He replaced the molding strip, along with the fabric speaker covering, and refinished the old cabinet in a way that made it look like new. When I delivered it to my daughter, she was ecstatic. Today, it occupies a special place in her home, blending well with other antique furnishings and family photos.

Other types of antiques and collectibles not only complete collections, but also have value in themselves. Framed artwork, jewelry, glass of all kinds, pottery, various furniture pieces and many more items can make appropriate gifts. The trick is in knowing the taste and wants of the recipient.

One of my wife’s family members has a fondness for frogs. Images of the amphibian come in many forms: paperweights, stuffed toys, lamps, pencil holders, doorstops, flowerpots, etc. One of my daughters likes pumpkins, and we’re always on the lookout for variations on this theme.

 

I’ve visited some representative shops and malls in the Heartland to find a cross-section of gift ideas. Don’t expect the exact items to be available; after all, the old rule for antiquers and collectors applies: “If you see something you like, buy it — it probably won’t be here tomorrow.”

My mission is merely to start your wheels turning.

Riverview Antique Center in Ozark, MO is located just off busy Hwy. 65, the mall houses more than 120 booths in a clean, well-lighted venue occupying 20,000 square feet. Most of the dealers take pains to display their antiques attractively. Tags are generally legible and easy to read. The dealers offer a wide range of items.

Many of the booths specialize in specific types of collectibles. Some contain mostly glassware; others offer kitchen items, Coca-Cola, old toys, newer collectible cars, advertising, primitives or other specialties.

I was drawn to one booth that featured old framed photos relating to St. Louis Cardinals baseball, including early photos of Stan Musial. Several of the photos were autographed. For Cardinal fans and baseball collectors in general, this booth would be a must-see (especially since the Cardinals may make to the World Series again this year).


Santas are featured at one of the showcases at Jesse James Antique Mall in St. Joseph, MO.

I admired a collection of stuffed bears in another booth. Every family has a bear-lover.

In another booth, I found a Daisy churn from the ‘30s powered by an electric motor. I’ll admit the churn might have a more difficult time finding a collector, but I’ll bet there are family rooms that would look amazing with the churn in one corner, possibly with its cream container serving as a flower pot.

Kerry May, owner of the mall also owns the nearby Spring Creek Antique Mall and Tea Room in Ozark. Both malls are open 7 days a week. May bought the Riverview Antique Center in 1992 and opened Spring Creek in 1998.

May is positive about antiques, and impressed with the number of younger buyers.

“We’re seeing more younger couples decorating with antiques,” he said. “There are builders out there using old doors and other architectural antiques in new homes,” he added. “The popularity of antiques with new homeowners opens up a lot of possibilities for gift-giving.”

Just north of St. Joseph, MO are two business enterprises that serve separate markets. The Jesse James Antique Mall & Furniture Gallery, established nine years ago, adjoins the Decorators’ Gallery and Craft Mall, built about two years later. Located at the corner of I-29 and Hwy. 71 (exit 53), both facilities are large and well organized, and share the same parking lot. Both are open seven days a week.

The larger antique mall contains more than 25,000 square feet, more than a third of that in the furniture gallery in the rear of the building. More than 400 dealers are represented at the mall, about evenly divided between showcases and traditional booths. The adjacent craft mall houses more than 150 dealers in 300 booths.

Overseeing both operations is Annette Weeks, co-owner of the combined facilities with her brother, Kevin Hummer, who originally developed the business complex.

“Kevin devotes most of his time to his first love, directing shows,” Weeks said. Weeks energetically divides her time between the malls, assisted by a full-time manager in the antique mall.

Although shoppers looking for holiday gift items frequently gravitate toward crafts, the antique mall contains many items that will solve gift-giving needs.

“Customers like to buy gifts that are unique,” Weeks said. “They like old sports or fishing items for dad or a pretty piece of pottery or glassware for mom.”

Like most malls in the Midwest, a large proportion of the Jesse James mall is made up of collectibles, with many of the booths and showcases featuring specific items. On my visit, various types of dolls, cookie jars, Santas, glassware, pottery, old jewelry, Disney and much more could be found. The showcases offer an excellent venue for smaller items.

In the Furniture Gallery, I found a small trunk, a true antique that could double as an eclectic conversation piece and storage container for small collectibles or “family nostalgia.”

The Decorators’ Gallery and Craft Mall had just completed a “Christmas in August” promotion and many of the items were still on display. There were ornamented Christmas trees, Santas and creatively designed snowmen, all reasonably priced. One booth had stuffed cloth pumpkins ready for Halloween decorating or for collectors. Various homemade dolls could be found in several booths, including an unusual “Raggedy Ann and her baby.”

In Kansas City, MO, one of the downtown area’s leading antique malls is River Market Antiques, at 115 W. 5th St. Located two blocks west of the City Market, the mall occupies three flours of an old building owned by the Mallin-Gibson family, who saved the structure from the wrecking ball. More than 120 dealers offer a variety of general antiques and collectibles.

Denise Caulkins has been mall manager since 1999. She said she is especially proud of the relationship the mall has with the community. An important factor is the mall’s front-window display that changes monthly.

“Passersby on the street — even joggers — tell me how much they enjoy the window displays,” she said. “We recently put a display of sports memorabilia in the window. I can’t believe how much interest it has generated.”

Caulkins has some definite ideas about the value of antiques and collectibles in gift giving.

“An antique or collectible gift is much more thoughtful,” she said. “If you go to a retail store or shopping mall you’re faced with buying items that are exactly like countless other items in other stores everywhere. Antiques are unique, and have more personality. You will also find more thoughtfulness and personalized service at an antique store,” she added.

“You can start your shopping early at an antique mall, without having to wait for ‘gift specials’ at other retail stores.”
Caulkins also had some advice for the shopper searching for an item for a friend’s collection.


These “Roly Poly” tins at Ma’s Country Antique Mall are reproductions, but are sure to brighten the holidays. The original versions are rare and extremely pricey.

“You don’t always know what your collector-friend needs to fill out the collection,” she said. “But most antique malls have provisions for gift certificates. This avoids gift wrapping and packaging, and allows the recipients to shop later at their leisure.”

Like most malls featuring general antiques and collectibles, River Market Antique Mall has gift ideas in nearly every booth. I came across porcelain tea canisters from Fortnum & Mason, the famous “queen’s grocer” in London. Modestly priced, they would make excellent kitchen containers, with special appeal to anglophiles.

Another booth featured art deco furnishings. Several offered old advertising, art prints, bears, books, cameras, jewelry, radios, toys, vintage clothing and countless “smalls.”

On the Kansas side of the state line, Ma’s Country Antique Mall on 7-73 Highway in Basehor, KS, is a large, comfortable building with more than 100 booths full of general antiques. For ten years, owner Vicki Eldridge has insisted on one basic rule for her dealers: You must have antiques in your booth to be a dealer.

Although many of the booths also deal in collectibles, the rule still applies, filling the mall with a good percentage of antiques.

Olive McCracken, a member of Eldridge’s extended family and a long-time employee, serves as store manager. Olive said that the mall is one of the few in the region built specifically as an antique mall.

Eldridge’s specialty is vintage clothing, hats and other antique apparel. Interesting items are displayed on mannequins near the front of the mall. Her dealers offer a wide assortment of dolls, furniture, glassware, kitchen items, lamps, model cars, old advertising, radios, records and books and much more.

She believes strongly that antique malls can provide excellent gift choices. “Buying antiques for Christmas gifts shows you really put thought and effort into the gift,” Eldridge said. “And you might bring a happy memory back to someone.”

Ma’s Country Antique Mall contains a treasure-trove of “memory makers.” My personal “find” was a lithographed tin box, a souvenir of the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. (When I attended the Coronation, I was too poor to buy souvenirs.)

Other items that caught my eye were cookie jars, automobilia and other old advertising, books, model cars, and reproduction “roly poly tins.” I also found some old radios that took me back to my youth, including a Zenith Transoceanic portable similar to one my mother won after sending a question to the “Quiz Kids” radio show in the late ‘40s.

A final thought.

Items on your holiday shopping list will depend on the interests of your gift recipients, who may not consider themselves “antiquers.” However, everyone appreciates a thoughtful, unique gift, purchased with care from a shop that offers one-of-a-kind items.

Antique/collectible and craft shops and malls fill the bill, and are worthy of your consideration during the holiday season.


Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at kweyand@gbronline.com.


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