Motorists traveling the interstate highways of Kansas can become mesmerized by long stretches of blacktop across the prairie. A break in the scenery is often just an exit ramp away at one of many antique shops in the Sunflower State.
More than a stop along I-70, Paxico has become a destination for antique shoppers. Some credit for the small town’s revitalization goes to Steve “Bud” Hund Jr., owner of Mill Creek Antiques. Hund began buying antiques for his own satisfaction. “I was a single guy and liked old stuff. With a hundred dollars and a pickup truck, a farm sale in the early ’70s was a lot of fun,” he said.
Hund opened Paxico’s first antique store 33 years ago when the town’s business district had many vacant, rundown buildings. “It took 15 years before I was able to convince another dealer to open a store. In the late ’80s it started to happen and happened quickly,” said Hund.
Property owners renovated storefronts along Newbury Avenue and Main Street in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Among the businesses that opened were about a dozen antique shops. Hund’s building, a restored 1886 general store, also houses a cafe and an additional antique shop.
“The town is vibrant right now, very progressive,” said Hund. “A tour bus stopped yesterday, and a blues festival over the weekend drew 4,000 people to town.”
Hund’s longtime specialty is antique heating stoves.
“I was living in an old farmhouse that didn’t have an adequate heating system in 1973 when the fuel crisis hit. So I bought an old stove and put it in the farmhouse,” said Hund. He has been restoring and selling stoves ever since.
“We do a lot of restoration work. We do museum restorations and a lot of grandpa’s and grandma’s stoves that had been relegated to a barn or shed,” said Hund.
Oddly, the recent spike in gas prices last summer did not adversely affect business at Mill Creek Antiques. “We had an immense amount of tourist traffic. Either people wanted to get off the highway and go to a small town or fuel prices might have caused people to take shorter trips. We saw more regional traffic. People might have been spending the day driving through the rural areas and little towns,” he said.
Paxico is 100 miles west of Kansas City and 38 miles west of Topeka.
A popular Topeka antique shop is Pastense, which Susan Henry opened in 1982. It is located at 3117 S.W. Huntoon St. in a fashionable shopping center. “It was built in the 1920s by the same man who designed the (Country Club) Plaza in Kansas City,” said Henry. “This was the upscale shopping center in Topeka, but it’s not so pricey as it used to be.”
Henry said her prices have always been affordable, rarely reflecting book price.
“My father-in-law was a used-car dealer for 50 years and said the only book that bought anything in his place was a checkbook. I go by that philosophy. People who write price guides don’t come to Kansas to see what we sell things for,” said Henry.
Customers have taken notice of her competitive prices. “I have a dealer from Dallas who comes once a month and picks me clean,” said Henry.
Also important to Henry’s success is her insistence upon selling strictly old merchandise. “I don’t have candles, potpourri, Beanie Babies or Hot Wheels,” she said. “I’m been called an old soul. I’ve always loved old things and old people.”
Henry said sales have been sporadic of late. “I’ve had the most no-sale days in September that I’ve had in the last 10 years. But I’ve also had a $6,000 day. It’s just been up and down,” she said. “When I can buy really good stuff I can sell it right away.”
Andover Antique Mall on the far east side of Wichita benefits from a convenient location off the I-35 Kansas Turnpike.
“We have a wonderful toll taker at the exit that gives people directions to get here,” said co-owner Mariam Holman. She and her husband, Tom, built the 30,000-square-foot mall and opened it 10 years ago upon learning she would lose her job of 24 years when Pizza Hut moved its corporate headquarters to Dallas. Mariam has been manager at the mall ever since.
“We just have high quality and don’t take in any junk,” said Holman of her 84 dealers.
Holman said Andover Antique Mall has had a good year that is still improving. “I’m amazed business was as good as it was, because of the high gas prices,” she said.
Any dip in sales from fewer cross-country travels has been offset by increased patronage from area customers. “Andover is a growing community and will soon be part of Wichita because they’re building so much out here. There’s money in Andover and east Wichita,” said Holman.
Local investors purchased the former Frontier Antique Mall on the west side of Wichita four years ago and renamed it Paramount Antique Mall. The 40,000-square-foot antique mall occupies a modern building located at 13200 W. Highway 54.
Manager Diane Vaughan describes Paramount as a premier antique mall. “The definition of an antique is something that’s 100 years old. It’s hard to keep finding them, but we sell antiques and collectibles. We’re not a big Beanie Baby or junky place,” said Vaughan.
She noted that Paramount Antique Mall is a two-time winner in Discover Mid-America magazine’s “Best Of” awards. With about 225 dealers, Paramount Antique Mall is one of the largest in the state. It is open daily, until 7 p.m. weeknights.
About 30 miles northeast of Wichita, a short drive off the Kansas Turnpike, is El Dorado. This rural community founded in 1871 later became the capital of the state’s oil industry. Recommended stops there are North Ward Junction Antiques, which is housed in an 1880s brick schoolhouse at 518 N. Star St., and Haverhill Antiques at 811 S. Haverhill Road, adjacent to the American Legion Golf Course.
Auctions have always been big in Kansas, as reflected by the National Auctioneers Association’s move of its headquarters to Overland Park, outside Kansas City, in 1982. Founded in 1948, the NAA has grown to approximately 6,000 members.
Susan Stuke-Metzger, who has been an auctioneer for nearly 30 years, planned on studying accounting in college, but disliked being confined to an office. Having enjoyed attending farm auctions with her parents, she chose auction school instead and started working with veteran Topeka auctioneer Al Warner.
“At the time in 1977 there were so few women auctioneers. I just was at the right time at the right place,” said Stuke-Metzger, who taught at Missouri Auction School for 10 years.
After getting married and moving to Nebraska, she conducted farm and livestock auctions, and purebred cattle sales. Following a divorce, she returned home to start Olde Mill Auction Center in Topeka three years ago.
She bought an 1894 brick warehouse adjacent to the municipal airport on the northeast side of the city. The auction center is convenient to I-70 and the Kansas Route 4 bypass.
“There was just a wide-open market here for an auction center. It has been ‘blow and go’ since we opened,” said Stuke-Metzger. She conducts general auctions every Wednesday and Saturday and an antique auction every six weeks. She said the Oct. 21 antique auction marking the third anniversary of Olde Mill Auction Center was the best yet.
Improvements to the facility include rebuilt loading docks and a comfortable seating area, said Stuke-Metzger, whose mother’s home cooking attracts customers.
“I think we have many people come to eat here and then stumble onto antiques,” said Stuke-Metzger. Mother Pauline’s crowd-pleasers include vegetable soup, beef Stroganoff and homemade pies.
Woody Auction Co. in Douglass has long been a leading seller of carnival and cut glass, and R.S. Prussia. John Woody founded company in 1965. Son Jason grew up with the business and joined full time out of college in 1993. While St. Louis is their preferred site for major specialty auctio ns, Woody Auction Co. has conducted sales from Washington D.C. to Portland, Ore.
Their next major auction will be an American brilliant cut glass sale Nov. 18 at the Holiday Inn Airport West, 3400 Rider Trail S., in St. Louis.
What promises to be an outstanding art glass auction on March 31 has Jason Woody excited. A big surprise awaited when he visited a client recently.
“I was the first one to walk into the apartment and the first two pieces I saw were both the best English cameo glass I’ve ever seen,” said Woody. One item was a 13-inch plaque by renowned cameo glass artist George Woodall. “Auctioneers rarely see English cameo glass, let alone an English cameo plaque,” he said. Another outstanding item at that sale will be a large cameo glass vase decorated in rock-crystal carving by Woodall.
Conrad Swenson of Swenson Auction & Real Estate in Rose Hill near Wichita has been an auctioneer for 10 years and already has more business than he cares to handle. “We turn down four to five a week and just take the good ones because that’s what brings the crowd,” said Swenson. His wife, Diana, is an owner-broker on the real estate side of the business.
“You won’t find an auction service that’s any more full-service than we are,” said Swenson, “We mow their lawn, clean their house and even move them. We’re the only service that, when Grandma goes to the retirement home, we move her free of charge,” he said.
Raised on a Kansas farm, Swenson worked as a full-time horseshoer and at the Boeing Co. “I’d wake up at 6 and shoe horses till 3 and then go to work from 4 to 1. I did that for 14 years,” he said.
Swenson stopped shoeing horses when he was 40 to start his auction business, which he said is now about the third or fourth largest auction service in the state. “We’ve had an increase in business of 20 to 30 percent each year. Every year has been a record year, and I think this is going to be a record year,” said Swenson, who attributes his success largely to good service.
“We have a shuttle service no one else has. I have eight golf carts for people who have to park a long way away. We go get them and bring them to the auction. At farm sales we’ll pick up an 80-year-old man walking with a cane down the road. He’ll look at my boys and say, ‘I’ve never had a ride to the auction.’ And when they buy some tools, we’ll deliver them to their car. That’s got us some big auctions,” said Swenson.
One of his biggest was a comic book auction that grossed $330,000 and made headlines in September 2004. “It was an old lady who called us. She had several auctioneers look at her little estate and told her they didn’t want to take it. ‘These comic books won’t bring $10 or $5 a box,’ they told her. I didn’t promise her anything. I took pictures and put them on my Web site. Within two hours the phone started ringing nonstop,” said Swenson. “Steve Geppi, who co-owns the Baltimore Orioles, spent $166,000 with us on the phone. He bid against Eric Roberts, Julia Roberts’ brother, and he spent about $70,000 on three comic books,” he added.
Swenson said the variety of work and the people he does business with make auctioneering enjoyable. “I hire only the best auctioneers and kids that have a heart for the business and love people. You can tell we all love our jobs,” said Swenson.
About 100 miles west of Wichita on U.S. Route 54 400 is Greensburg, where members of the Brown family have been conducting auctions since the 1940s. Scott Brown and his son Jamie represent the second and third generations of auctioneers in their family.
Brown Auction & Real Estate began holding specialty antique auctions in the 1980s when collecting became a popular pastime. The Browns conduct about 25 auctions per year, most at their auction facility at 900 E. Kansas Ave.
“It was a bowling alley that had been vacant a few years. We pushed the wooden lanes together to make a nice big floor, which is unique,” said office manager Susan Brown, who is Scott’s wife and Jamie’s mother.
Brown Auction is equipped to work anywhere. In July they were in the Detroit area to conduct an auction in conjunction with the International Association of R.S. Prussia Collectors convention. Conversely, buyers come from across the country to attend their annual New Year’s antique auction.
“It’s a big sale, two to three days, of higher-end antiques you don’t normally see sell out here in southwest Kansas,” said Jamie Brown.