Although the 23rd Street Antique Mall specializes in past vintage items, its owners continue to bring a sense of vibrancy and newness to the area.
Bill and Denny McConnell are celebrating 25 years in business. They’re delighted with their retail fortunes and look forward to many more years of doing what they love: selling antiques and collectibles.
“Looking back, we can see the hand of God in this,” Bill McConnell said.
Today, about 70 dealers use the 23rd Street Antique Mall to display their wares. It covers a gamut of items, from handcrafted oak furniture to old clocks, clothes, record players and almost any other classic item one can imagine. The displays of each dealer are neat, in order, and the condition of a lot of the merchandise is stunning.
Before their business journey got underway, Bill McConnell worked for a freight company, now out of business. In his heart, he knew his real passion was collecting and admiring antiques, and his wife shared his zeal.
In 1989, the May Antique Mall at 1515 N May came into being. Within six months, Bill and Denny had the opportunity to become managers. They said they were told they would have an opportunity to buy the business and lease the location, if they were successful. That’s exactly what happened.
Six years later, they wanted a place they could own. They found it six blocks away at 3023 NW 23, the former home of Adair’s Tropical Cafeteria. Well-crafted, old items may be in demand, but not so much so with old rundown buildings. There were problems with the roof and a lot of renovation had to be done before it became a first-class retail operation.
Getting a quality structure was only part of the business success model.
Another aspect, perhaps the biggest, was providing a personal touch.
“I don’t know how he (Bill) does it, but he will call people by name who haven’t been in the store for a year,” said Denny McConnell. Some of those customers come from as far away as Japan.
The owners have a servant philosophy and believe they work for each person who comes through the door.
“There’s nothing that bothers me more than when I go in somewhere and I’m not greeted,” Bill McConnell said. “The chances are I probably won’t do business there.”
Perhaps their hands-on approach is why they have a display of readers’ choice awards from publications including The Oklahoman.
Mad money, famous clientele
Over the years, there have been some interesting sales. One came years ago when a three-piece Victorian bedroom set sold.
The price was $32,500. The customers paid in cash.
“They had all these hundreds clipped together and paid that way,” Bill McConnell recalled. “They said it was their ‘mad’ money.”
Then there was a time a bus pulled into the parking lot and what they described as a somewhat “scruffy,” entourage entered the store and began to look around. One of the women went to various dealer displays and would point and purchase different antiques.
She turned out to be the wife of one of the members of the rock band Aerosmith. The McConnells were not aware of the fame of the band and its flamboyant singer, Steven Tyler.
“I was asked if I had wanted to get his autograph,” Bill recalled. “I really wanted his autograph on a check.”
They’re not just invested in the antiques operation, but in the area as well.
They live near the store in a home that is furnished with antiques. Across the street from the business is their worship home, Northwest Baptist Church. They are proud of their area, including neighborhood businesses such as Dental Depot, which rebuilt after a 2001 fire.
“This is a great neighborhood,” Denny McConnell said. “I feel like I live in a small town set inside of a large city.”
They’ve had offers to move the business or start another store in another area, such as Bricktown.
“We really like it here,” Bill said.
They also see more younger people moving into the area and some homes with hefty sale prices.
Online and ongoing
No look at the antique business would be complete without a mention of the online marketplace.
“There is no doubt that the Internet has affected this business,” Bill said.
He said there is still something special about looking at an item and witnessing up close the craftsmanship and beauty of an antique.
“You can buy something nice at a furniture store, but they have another 25 or 30 just like it,” Bill McConnell said. “An antique has a uniqueness. It’s a one-of-a-kind and can be well-built even if it was made in the 1880s.”
They’ve also decided to use the Internet as an ally as they email customers and have an active presence online, at www.antiques23.com and on Facebook.
“We currently have about 1,896 likes from many people who have actually shopped with us,” Denny McConnell said.
Although married 40 years, they have no plans to retire from a business they love.
“Last year, Bill broke his leg and was able to work from his wheelchair,” Denny said. “If he could do that, then we figured we could work here for a long time.”