Wichita antique malls have the community covered
Paramount managers follow trends and target social media
By Leigh Elmore
Located about midway between the Kansas City and Oklahoma City, Wichita is the bright light on the great plains of Kansas – a beacon of culture and an urban presence burning on the vast prairie. As such, the efforts of Wichita boosters to promote the city as a tourist destination are not as daunting as one might think.
Standing at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers, "The Keeper of the Plains" was created by sculptor Blackbear Bosin. (photo courtesy Visit Wichita)
There are attractions that appeal to everyone in the family. And by the way, the antiques business is strong in Wichita and continues to be one of those attractors. According to information published earlier this year in "The Chung Report", an internet blog site concerned with all things Wichita: "At the regional level, Wichita attracts a lot of people living in rural areas. On a national level, they're from everywhere, including bigger cities like Chicago or New York. Becoming a place for both sets of people is important.
"For the smaller communities, we are the larger city to come and shop, spend the weekend, and have those experiences that they don't have in their own city," said Susie Santo, president of Visit Wichita, which promotes Wichita and events. "If you look at some of the larger cities ... it's just a lot of our ease and our amenities for the size market we are. So, for a group coming here, the ease of getting into the airport, getting downtown, our Q-Line, taking us around downtown, the proximity of Old Town to the convention center, that proximity and that ease add to the city's appeal to visitors," Santo said.
Regardless of where they're from, tourists are a huge opportunity for Wichita, both in economics and in perception.
Despite a lack of natural attractions, tourism in Wichita is without a doubt an economic driver. When people from outside Wichita spend their money there, it brings in new money, rather than having it traded within a local economy. That means tourism is a strong wealth creator for the city.
"[Visitors] are the purest form of economic development," Santo says. "They come into our market, they spend their dollars and they leave."
All of this visiting and spending accounts for around $1 billion in revenue each year. Roughly $300 million of that goes to restaurants alone.
"So, without visitors, we wouldn't have nearly the number of restaurants because they are who's spending," Santo says. That stands to reason for the antiques and vintage trade as well.
Kim Bennett is manager of Paramount East Antique Mall. (photos by Leigh Elmore)
Vintage is a draw
And some of those tourism dollars go to Wichita area antique and vintage dealers, who provide a market for the thousands of regional residents who might get to Wichita several times a year – and for some who come from even farther away.
At the Paramount East Antique Mall near Augusta, manager Kim Bennett keeps a world map near the checkout counter. On it are colored pins that represent the homes of some of the mall's more far-flung visitors. Pins are studded in locations all around the world: France, India, Japan and from nearly every state in the Union.
The Paramount East Antique Mall is one of three giant antique malls owned by Cynthia Branch and Sandy Hudspeth. The other two are the original Paramount West Antique Mall, located on the west edge of the Wichita metro area and the Paramount Marketplace, located in the central city.
The three Paramount malls are completely owned and managed by women.
A Western-themed booth at Paramount East.
"Our dealers are all small business people and we do everything we can to support them," Bennett said. The mall encompasses 22,000 sq. ft., and boast more than 100 dealers, with a one-year waiting list to get in. Business seems to be good.
This particular mall has a distinct "western" feel to it, with lots of items relating to ranching and farming. "We're a kind of keeper of Wichita's flame here," she said, "we carry a lot of Wichita memorabilia," as she pointed to a figurine of the Wichita's symbolic sculpture, "The Keeper of the Plains," which stands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers and created by Kiowa-Comanche artist, Blackbear Bosin.
"This mall is our country sister," Bennett said. "It's a great store for this area of Kansas. We attract a lot of farm folk and people who live in the country."
Sandy Branch co-owns the Paramount Malls with Sandy Hudspeth who also operate Paramount Management, an apartment management firm. ..."Sandy and I manage apartment communities. The antique malls are our fun thing," Branch said. "I think the state of the antique and vintage markets are actually good," she said, as long as dealer know how to read customer tastes.
"We had a hard time when eBay was bigger, but people are getting back to where they want to touch and feel something before they buy it. And I am seeing more younger people getting into it," noting also that dealers now have multiple options for reaching their audiences, on-line and in person. "We're pretty big here in Wichita."
Carrie Welborn serves as marketing, promotions and social media manager for the Paramount Malls. She's been involved with antiques for most of her life. "I got the bug and operated a booth in Hutchinson with my Dad," she said. "Then one day I visited the original Paramount (West) Mall and I couldn't believe it. It was so big. They convinced me to rent a shelf."
The rest we say is history. "That was 12 years ago and what started out as a very part time job is now very full time," Wellborn said.
Debbie Charles is the manager of Paramount West Antique Mall.
"Social media is so important now and it is ever-changing. I watch for trends and whatever changes are happening and try to adapt them to our market," Wellborn said, noting that she uses Facebook and Instagram to promote the malls.
"It's important to stay relevant and to go where the people are looking. I try to post on Facebook every single day. I don't want to be annoying, but you want to make sure people see something every day. Some don't check Facebook that often, so it's important to spread out the messaging to reach the majority of people who want to come to our stores," she said.
"It's so important that dealers go with the trends and find out what people really want. That's why we watch trends so closely," Wellborn said.
And yes, Wellborn is still a dealer at heart, with two booths at the west mall and one at the central Marketplace Mall. She deals in vintage clothing, home décor items and old prints.
She remains upbeat about the long-term viability of the antique and vintage trade. "Every year there are things that are becoming vintage that weren't before," she said. "There are always going to be those items that will bring back memories. People want something unique, and there's an item that really speaks to them. It's something that can make their home special," she said.
A booth of traditional antique furniture at Paramount Marketplace.
In central Wichita the Paramount Marketplace occupies an old Dillon's supermarket, with fully 35,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 180 dealers occupying 225 booths, filling up the store completely. It has an industrial feel to it and has been open for three years. Paramount Marketplace is the one mall in the group that allows dealers to sell new items along with vintage.
"This store has the greatest variety of people coming in. They are not all shopping for antiques. Many are attracted to home décor items and jewelry," Wellborn said. "We are in a different market here. We actually have a lunch hour crowd on many days."
Madison Branch manages the Paramount Marketplace.
Madison Branch manages the Paramount Marketplace. "Antiques have always been a part of my life," she said, first helping her mother, Cynthia, one of the owners, with one of her early booths at another mall. "I worked through high school and college breaks," she said.
"I love the antique business because it causes you to reminisce. Of course, the hunt is a part of it as well. But our merchandise is curated, so we can help our repeat customers not go to so much trouble. We do turn down a lot of things people want to sell," Branch said. "And we keep 'want' lists for our regular customers."
She echoed Wellborn's thoughts about the importance of social media in today's vintage market. "It plays a big part in developing our clientele," especially younger customers. Millennials are often portrayed as eschewing antiques and vintage for more modern décor. "But they do have an interest in antiques, but they are just more specialized," Branch said. "We encourage all our vendors to develop an on-line presence."
And while some Paramount dealers might have booths at all three malls, they probably have unique customers at each. Wellborn noted that the sprawling urban area that is Wichita has decidedly opinionated residents. "Wichita is unique. In many respects east-siders and west-siders tend to stay in their own areas. Which is why we have malls on both sides of town and in the middle."
"They each have their own personality," Madison Branch said.
Three cookie jar lids looking for homes at Paramount West.
Back to the roots
So over on the west side of town, Debbie Charles is the manager Paramount West Antique Mall, the original mall in the Paramount group.
"I started out as a staff member," Charles said. "I was promoted to assistant manager and finally to manager. I have been working here for 15 years."
Paramount West might be termed a "traditional" antique mall. It has fully 40,000 sq. ft. of space, being the largest of the three. Charles once operated her own brick and mortar antique shop and has been in the business for 27 years. She operates three booths of her own with items "that run the gamut. I have a love of architecture," she said.
An assortment of vintage fishing lures at Paramount West.
Charles, too, is a trends watcher. "You always need to follow them, just to keep up with the decorating aspects. But we have a lot of tried and true merchandise including toys, advertising and architectural elements.
"I'm still buying stuff like I bought 27 years ago, and people still want it," she observed.
In those days a lot of antique and vintage sales were driven by what people could see in Country Living Magazine, Charles said. "Decorator magazines are still important, but more influence is being wielded by TV and on-line decorators like Joanna Gaines," a native Kansan, who maintains a website called Magnolia.com from which she writes a regular blog. "She has developed a large following," Charles said. "She has more influence now than Country Living did 25 years ago."
She noted that younger people have more of a minimalist attitude toward home décor. "I'm still hoping that they develop a collecting mentality. But people still love nostalgia. It drives people. They see something and it makes a connection. Something speaks to them, 'Grandma had one.'
Historic Wichita - Wichita's rich history is on display
For thousands of years, Wichita served as a gathering place for nomadic people, eventually becoming a trading post along the Chisholm Trail.
Cattle drives, oil discoveries and aircraft manufacturing are all a part of Wichita's history and culture, shaping it into the largest city in Kansas. If you are interested in the history and culture of Wichita, the following sites need to be on your radar.
Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
In the heart of downtown, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is located in the
original 1890 City Hall with its 170-foot tall clock tower. With four floors of special and long-term exhibits examining Wichita and Sedgwick
County's rich history and cultural heritage, the museum's collection of 70,000 artifacts includes a Wichita-built 1916 Jones VI automobile, a full-
scale Victorian home interior and many other exhibits embodying the area's vibrant history from its settlement in the 1860s to today.
Keeper of the Plains
The iconic 44-foot Keeper of the Plains steel sculpture pays tribute to the Native Americans
who made the area their home before the arrival
of settlers. Located at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers, the Keeper Plaza features exhibits depicting the Plains Indians' way of life. Access to the plaza area is by two bow-
and-arrow-inspired cable-stay bridges or through the Mid-America All-Indian during the day. The center houses a museum, gallery of nations and a gift shop featuring artists' work.
Old Cowtown Museum
Experience Wichita like it's 1865 at Old Cowtown Museum. This living history museum lets you immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and activities common to a Midwestern cattle town. Hear the ring of the blacksmith anvil, try an ice-cold sarsaparilla in the saloon and be prepared to duck in the doorway as gunfire erupts in the streets. Cowtown's unique programming tells the story of Wichita's transformation from a frontier settlement to a cattle town to an agricultural and manufacturing area. Connect with history through textiles, furnishings, furniture, tools and art while exploring 54 historic and re-created buildings, including Wichita's oldest surviving structure.
Historic Delano District
One of Wichita's oldest neighborhoods, the Historic Delano District is an eclectic shopping district west of the river in downtown Wichita. It is home to unique, independently owned shops, art galleries and restaurants and also features public art celebrating the area's Chisholm Trail heritage and evolution through the years.
Old Town District
What is now known as the source of Wichita's vibrant nightlife scene, Old Town Wichita is laid along brick-lined streets and offers eclectic shops, restaurants and fun for all ages.
While in Old Town, visit the Great Plains Transportation Museum on the upper level north
of historic Union Station and stop at the Museum of World Treasures to experience treasures from around the world and through the ages with more than 3,000 artifacts on three floors.
Housed in the original Wichita Municipal Airport Terminal Building, the Kansas Aviation Museum preserves the importance of the grand art-deco style building and chronicles the growth and development of general aviation in Kansas. The museum houses a world-class collection of 40 historic, significant and one-of-a-kind aircraft and aircraft engines; a control tower; a huge archive with thousands of records, schematics, books, photos and more; and a wide range of aviation memorabilia.
(photos courtesy Visit Wichita)
While in Wichita, Visit These Fine Dealers
Hewitt's Antiques & Shopkeepers Mall
228 N. Market St.
Antiques & Vintage Restoration
3224 E. Douglas Ave.
10187 SW Hwy. 54
13th and Woodlawn
13200 W. Hwy. 54
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at email@example.com.
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