|By Eric C. Rodenberg
EL PASO, Ill. – When Patricia J. Blue died on March 22, the fate of the El Paso Antique Mall in central Illinois was uncertain.
Patricia, with her husband Dale, had owned the antique mall for 25 years. She and Dale built the 16,000-square-foot structure in 1994, specifically designed as an antique mall accommodating more than 150 dealers.
Although the mall dealers deeply mourned the passing of Patricia, there was also much anxiety about the mall’s future in this small Illinois town with a population of around 2,500 residents.
In April brother and sister Clint Barker and Salisha Martinez and their spouses bought the mall. While the four have no experience with antique merchandise, they do have big plans for the mall.
Both families are long-time residents of El Paso, which is located about 20 minutes from Bloomington-Normal, Ill., with a metropolitan area population of nearly 170,000 and the home of Illinois State University.
El Paso is also about 45 minutes from the city of Peoria with a population of 115,000.
Located on Illinois Route 24, on the west side of busy Interstate 39, customers from each of the 48 contingent states come through its doors annually.
The Martinez-Barker family intends to build on the strength of that location, beefing up their advertising and visibility, ensuring the friendliness of their staff and diversifying (if possible) the diversity of their merchandise.
That last ambition may be difficult, in that the 150 dealers plying their wares at the El Paso Antique Mall have nearly “all the bases covered.”
“If you come into this mall and don’t find something you’re interested in, or looking for, I would be very surprised,” says Ryann Barker. “We hear at least once a day from customers, that we’re the best mall in the area.”
The transition was seamless, in that the Martinez-Barker family retained the staff, many of whom have worked at the antique mall for years. The manager has 10 years’ experience working in the mall, with a broad knowledge of antiques and collectibles, Barker said. The six staff members, including one who has worked at the mall since it opened in 1994, also are knowledgeable and helpful, she added.
“Salisha and I work here throughout the week and there isn’t a day goes by that we don’t learn something new,” Barker said. “We also have dealers who specialize in old bottles, doll house merchandise, soda advertising and a lot of pop culture material. It’s been a fascinating experience already.”
The mall is beginning to attract a good crowd of younger buyers, many of whom are even younger than the 30-something owners owners. “There’s more people coming through the door that are our age and younger,” Barker said. “More than I thought there would be.”
That can partially be attributed to the massive offering of pop culture, Mid-Century Modern furniture and accessories, and other later collectibles. The owners of the El Paso Antique Mall is discovering, as are many other dealers, that collectibles from the 1980s are particularly desirable now.
“A lot of buyers from that age group are buying Mid-Century Modern pieces and pop art for decorating,” Barker said. “But we’re also selling a lot of character glasses, vinyl records and 80s toys (such as Transformers). A lot of that is nostalgia kicking in, I believe.”
The mall is handicap accessible, has more than adequate paved parking and clean restrooms, according to the new owners. Although there is a waiting list for booths, showcases are still available in the mall, which is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We’re only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Barker said.
The El Paso Antique Mall, at 15 Linco Drive, also keeps an active presence on Facebook.
Contact: (309) 527-3705