Repurposed glass dishware makes a nice vase of flowers. Whimsical items such as these, as well as tradition antiques and collectibles, can be found at Mike’s Unique Collectible & Antique Flea Market in Springfield, Mo.
I recently took a short trip to Springfield, Mo., to meet Mike Cook, the co-founder and co-owner of Mike’s Unique Collectible & Antique Flea Market. Mike has a very unique story about how he got into the antique and collectible business—one that is a prime example of doing what you have to do to survive these days.
The store was busy with shoppers strolling the aisles and dealers stocking their booths when I dropped in on Mike’s store the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I had the opportunity to look around while he assisted a few customers and I was very pleased at how clean everything looked, the width of the aisles and the overall spaciousness of the store. There is even a separate room for furniture and other large items, which makes the individual booths easier to see. Even though Mike and his business partner, Richard Green, have approximately 300 booths and showcases, the store did not look crowded and cramped.
When Mike and I finally had an opportunity to sit down and visit, my first question was how did this all come about? He took a slow look around the store and told his story:
After he did his time with Uncle Sam in the military, Mike spent the next 30 years of his life in the construction industry. As with many folks these days, his regional management position was eliminated and he was transferred to the corporate office in Colorado. A month in the Rockies was more than enough for Mike and he was ready to return home to Springfield, but the company had no open positions for him there. So what is a guy to do? Stay in a place and position he dislikes, go on welfare or find a way to create his own job?
Mike Cook (right), the co-founder and co-owner of Mike’s Unique Collectible & Antique Flea Market, with his business partner, Richard “Red” Green. Two years ago, these two out-of-work construction workers with no experience in retail and no experience in the antique, collectible or flea market business created their own now-profitable jobs.
When Mike was in the military, he had a friend who talked often about opening the largest flea market in the United States. Mike thought the idea sounded a little daft at the time, but he listened just the same. All these years later, he found himself recalling those conversations and thinking that opening a flea market might just be a viable solution to his predicament. So he set out on a mission to visit all the antique shops and flea markets he could find and began creating a list of the things he liked and disliked about each of them. He quit his corporate job, moved back to Springfield and was able to get a business loan to turn his vision in to reality. Along the way, he phoned a buddy of his, Richard Green, who he had just laid off from the job a year previous and filled him in on his idea. Richard thought Mike was nuts, but still kind of liked the sound of the project and got on board.
That is how two years ago, two construction workers with no experience in retail and no experience in the antique, collectible or flea market business created their own now-profitable jobs. I asked Mike if he had been in contact with his military buddy who had the original idea. He said that yes, and in fact, his friend has a very successful business putting on large flea markets around the Midwest.
Mike said it has certainly been a “learn on the job” experience, but added that he has been able to surround himself with people who are familiar with antiques, collectibles and memorabilia. Mike is also a subscriber to WorthPoint and says he utilizes the site’s Worthopedia Price Guide quite often when searching for information for himself and for his customers. When he buys out estates and storage units, her turns to WorthPoint iPhone app a great deal when he is in the field and needs answers quickly.
Depending on which booth you approach, your eyes will be hit with all kinds of unexpected treasures.
I asked how business has been for them since they opened the store and he said they are “keeping their heads above water.” They are looking to expand the business and open another location and Mike owns 10 percent of a similar store in my neck of the woods, Nellie & Nicos; An Antique Boutique, in Shawnee, Kansas. He calls this their sister store. It is located in what used to be a large grocery store and, while I have visited it, I have yet to make it all the way through the store. Mike’s Missouri is large, but this store is massive. I hope to do a story on them in the near future.
As far as inventory goes, Mike’s vendors have a little bit of everything, from flea-market finds to wonderful 1950s furniture, collectibles and a few antiques. I certainly spied a few things that I would like to have, but I am to the point that something has to go before I bring something else home.
I had the pleasure of visiting with one of the dealers, Bea Land, who has been a dealer for many years and stays busy with not only a booth in Mike’s store, but also a booth in a nearby town. Bea has a nice assortment of smalls (small decorative items), glassware, dolls, porcelain and other goodies and her prices are very reasonable. She said that she had not seen the market this depressed in all her years in the business. I assured her that it was hitting all of us hard but, hopefully, we would see things start to turn around soon.
Each proprietor at Mike’s Unique Collectible & Antique Flea Market sets up their booth to match their personality.
Mike thinks that if there were greater cooperation between the antique shops and flea market stores in the area, things might work out better for everyone. He might be right. The day I came into Springfield—the day before I visited with Mike—I noticed an abundance of antique stores and indoor flea markets in town, but many of the stores had signs out front looking for dealers to rent space. Mike, meanwhile, has a waiting list of 600 dealers. I think Mike is right. It would serve them all well to work as a more cohesive unit. But, as I can attest, there are often territorial issues among antique shops in many towns, as everyone wants to keep to themselves instead of working together as a group with similar interests and a common goal: drawing more customers and selling more antiques and collectibles.
It was a real pleasure to meet Mike. Good luck, and I’ll be back.
Looking for something new, used or almost antique? Visit Mike’s Unique Collectible and Antique Flea Market at 3335 W. Sunshine St., Springfield, Mo. Store hours are: Monday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To phone, call 417.869.5400.
Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.
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