Antique, thrift stores a key part of downtown's appeal
Kingman's Old Town offers Old West to visitors
KINGMAN - Stroll through downtown Kingman on a typical weekday afternoon and there's not much to do except browse through a cluster of antique stores - stores that some people, unfortunately, might refer to as junk stores.
Call it "collectible junque," as the sign says on the window at Ranch of the Rhinestone Gypsies. Like the $225 antique wool winder.
Part of the vision for rejuvenating downtown Kingman is to play upon its charm and quaintness and historic relevance, much like Prescott and Sedona and other small towns that refused to give way to strip malls and retail chains.
So having 20 antique, specialty and thrift shops in a four-block area gives Kingman the critical mass it needs to attract treasure hunters, tourists and collectors of anything odd and unique.
"Whether people want to admit it or not, they're a huge draw," said Angela Patterson, owner of Beale Street Brews coffee shop and gallery. "The thing our antique stores have that others don't is they reflect the West. Especially the European tourists, they're all over that. They're intrigued by the Wild West."
Steven Smith shops Time Was Antiques to find vintage decor for his Kingman home built in 1965, the same year he was born. He already displays several pieces purchased from the store in his home.
"This is still the original old West and this is Route 66," Smith said as he looked at a framed picture of actor James Cagney. "The reason I'm here today is I was on my way to Prescott. They have a street with nothing but antique stores, but I got rained out. I just decided to do my Christmas shopping here."
One thing that would benefit downtown Kingman is to have more eateries with patio dining, Smith said.
"Having the street alive and people on the sidewalks is important," he said.
Gary Jeppson, director of development services for Kingman, said it's not bad that antique stores serve as downtown's retail base, especially when those buildings would otherwise be left vacant.
"We shouldn't be knocking anything down. We need to preserve what we have," Jeppson said. "Antique stores you need. It allows people to go downtown and walk around and go to specialty shops. We're not doing anything to encourage them or discourage them."
It's important to have occupancy in downtown businesses, Jeppson said. He's grateful that the antique stores are keeping their doors open.
The city is encouraging development of more restaurants, such as Sirens Café, Rednecks BBQ and Garlic Clove, to create something of a nightlife downtown. A lot of public employees with the city, county and courts are looking for a place to go after work, he said.
"I think there has to be mixed use. Certainly restaurants bring more people downtown," the development director said. "We lost general merchandise downtown and now we've got put those buildings to other uses."
Kathy Irish took 600 square feet of space vacated by Desert Furniture Repair to open Kat's Korner in November. The retired accountant was looking for something to keep her busy after moving here from California two years ago.
"My husband took me to an auction and I saw the coolest stuff," she said. "If I buy all this stuff, I've got to sell it. I thought it would be fun to open a store. It gives me purpose and makes you feel like you're part of the community and you meet nice people."
The Clock Man closed at 226 E. Beale St. and another antique store will take its place.
Mary Wise, co-owner of Time Was Antiques with her husband, Tom, said she sees foreign visitors coming back every year to shop downtown Kingman.
"It's really amazing. They don't look at downtown as ugly," she said. "This is where Kingman was and it shows how we got to where we are."
Wise subleases 10 spaces in her 2,400-square-foot shop that was built in 1920 and was home to Fetrow's Jewelers. One lady sells vintage clothing after downsizing her business. Another vendor sells leftovers from estate sales.
"Some people just enjoy the hunt," Wise said. "This is a store where the past is always in style. That's my trademark. I think the past is a link to what things used to be like and we need it to go forward. People just have a love of the past."
For antique shoppers, every store has the lure of that once-in-a-lifetime find, the treasure that's always out there but seldom uncovered.
"It's kind of a mix. That's what draws people down here," said Jenna Haney, sales clerk at Ranch of the Rhinestone Gypsies. "Here, jewelry is a big hit. A lot of it is handmade. What's nice about antique shops is it's always changing. New stuff to look at. You never know what you might find when they bring new stuff in."
There was a time when Wise carried nothing beyond the 1960s era. Now she sees younger customers coming in wanting to buy things from the 1970s.
"For a lot of people, Walmart is high style. People come in here and want something that means something. Maybe mom had it," Wise said.
Cherie DaLynn, owner of Paws-itively Charming thrift shop and pet boutique, said she gets a lot of tourists who come to experience Route 66. The shop benefits For the Luv of Paws animal rescue and receives donations such as a doll collection and porcelain statues of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.
"We need to get more exposure," she said. "We've been here eight years and it's amazing how many people in Kingman don't know we're here."