When the housing market crashed, real estate agent Larry Thompson looked for a second job. He soon discovered a knack for selling knickknacks. And antiques. And collectibles.
Thompson is the manager of the Union Antique Mall at 200 S. Union Ave., which under new owners John and Leah Russell is enjoying a surge in popularity among shoppers and vendors.
Today, the mall is 100-percent leased out to “55 different little stores,” as Thompson describes them. The merchants offer everything from antique metalwork and furniture to original artwork.
The vendors are responsible for setting the prices and keeping their spaces stocked but otherwise are mostly absent. Thompson and his small staff handle the day-to-day sales on their behalf.
The steady stream of shoppers who visit are as varied in their ages as their reasons for buying a particular item, Thompson said. “You hear quite a few stories. And it’s always fun to hear them,” he said.
Just last week, two women in their 20s visiting from Japan purchased $300 in vintage American clothing to take back home with them, he said.
Pyrex cookware from any era is among the steady sellers, he said. Collectibles such as Coca-Cola items or “anything with Pueblo or Colorado” also are popular, he said.
The Russells, owners of the nearby Experienced Interiors furniture consignment store at 107 S. Union Ave., took over the mall in July and asked Thompson to assist.
The trio worked to better organize the store and recruit more vendors while suggesting ways the vendors could boost their sales.
Another reason their efforts are succeeding is that, unlike some similar stores, the owners and Thompson are not vendors and do not compete with their tenants, Leah Russell said.
The mall’s revenue comes solely from space rentals and a percentage of sales, so the owners’ focus is helping all of the vendors boost sales by advising them on space design and pricing, she said.
“I think this model works,” she said.
She and Thompson also credit the vendors with bringing new life to the mall, which first opened several years ago. “The vendors are active. They’re here working in the store,” Thompson said.
The mall offers attractive prices, he said. He pointed to one space that offers hand-printed motivational signs for as low as $7. Another store might charge double or more, he said.
Most of the vendors are from Pueblo County; several are from Denver, La Junta and Trinidad.
Ron Alfonso, owner of the The Nest collectibles and furniture store at 311 1/2 S. Union Ave., keeps a space in the mall. “It’s a great concept,” Alfonso said.
A software program in the cash register keeps each vendor’s sales separate. The software program also allows vendors to track their sales online.
The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 544-0928.
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