For a year and a half now, owner Casey Ward has been scouring the local real estate market trying to find a new home for the Mission Road Antique Mall — a fixture at Corinth Square South in Prairie Village since 1994.
But last week, she had to inform her more than 300 vendors that she’d reached the difficult conclusion that relocating just wasn’t financially feasible. The mall will stay open through December 2018. After that it will close for good.
Ward, who has managed the mall since the late 1990s and purchased it in 2005 after its corporate owner declared bankruptcy, called it the “end of an era.”
The mall opened at Corinth Square South in a building that includes part of the historic Woolford Farms barn, which housed the horse training operation that produced 1938 Kentucky Derby winner Lawrin, in 1994. In the nearly quarter century that’s followed, the mall has become many professional decorators’ go-to source for hard-to-find pieces.
Corinth Square owner First Washington Realty, which is based in Bethesda, Mary., informed the city last summer that it was looking to redevelop part of the center that included the Mission Road Antique Mall building, and would likely raze the structure.
With the redevelopment plans moving forward, Ward and her partners began looking for alternative locations for the operation.
“We looked at every single thing in the city of any size at all,” she said.
They were giving serious consideration to taking over tens of thousands of square feet of under-used space at Ranchmart. But an accountant’s analysis suggested it would require loans of around $1 million to fund the improvements necessary to relocate the mall there. Ward came to the conclusion that the numbers simply didn’t add up, and she wasn’t interested in taking investments from people for a business concept that didn’t work on paper.
“I didn’t want to give up the hope. I didn’t want to give up the dream,” Ward said. “I’m not going to take other people’s money if I can see that this isn’t going to work. Because it was going to be a huge undertaking. Huge.”
The news has been hard for many of the vendors. Carol Jean Barta, Judy Jackson and Faith Shaff have all been selling antiques at the mall since the day it opened in 1994. Barta sat on a curb waiting for the owners to show up on opening day to make sure she could rent a prime booth.
“We consider ourselves a family,” Barta said of the vendors who rent space at the mall.
“You walk in, and it’s just sunshine,” said Shaff.
Vendor Lee Sturgill, who has been selling goods at the mall for 15 years, said he was holding out hope that someone would swoop in and save the operation.
“Forever now, decorators have been able to come here an find just the right piece,” he said. “It’s been a service that’s just irreplaceable.”
But Ward said the costs associated with building out a new space and paying much higher rental rates would make starting over in a new location untenable.
“There’s a limit to what dealers can pay for a booth,” Ward said. “There’s not much profit in their businesses to begin with. Everybody is working out of love and passion. So a lot of them just break even, and that’s fine with them. But it’s one thing to break even on a $300 a month booth. It’s another thing with a $1,000 a month booth.”
With a closing date just five months away, vendors said they’re planning to make the most of their final months in the space, and will bring out high-quality items they’d been keeping in reserves.
“Let’s make these remaining months an incredible experience for ourselves and our customers – we owe it to them and to each other,” Ward said in her note to the vendors.