KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of Kansas City’s oldest and most historic parts of town is looking past the pandemic.
From spring through fall, the West Bottoms is full of antique and vintage shoppers on the hunt, people combing through floors of unique furniture and wares.
The very high-touch atmosphere has all but shut down due to the pandemic, and now, business owners are wondering whether they’ll survive the coronavirus closure.
Tricia Hanney said Nook & Cranny is her “life, heart and soul.” She spends hours assessing, cleaning and labeling inventory in an old dusty building off West 13th and Hickory.
She hasn’t seen customers in her shop in months, but that will change the first weekend in June.
“We’re actually getting to open, so we’re so excited to see everybody and we haven’t for at least two months,” Hanney said.
She’s joining other dealers who are already open. They’re all getting ready for the area’s first First Fridays since the pandemic hit.
“This’ll be the first month, a little a bit open since all this craziness started,” Hanney said. “So we’ll get to see some of our friends coming down and customers we haven’t seen in a while.”
She tried to move her business model online but found most customers tend to be on a physical hunt.
“We’re more hands on. People want to see this stuff. They want to touch, feel, you know, measure, all that kind of stuff,” Hanney said.
She normally houses inventory for more than three dozen vendors, but she said nearly a third of them have had to close up shop.
“Our vendors are single mothers. They’re couples who are doing something to earn a little extra cash,” Hanney said. “You got a lot of hard-working people that are hoping this will come back, and they can still make some money and support their family.”
When her shop opens, she said she’ll have hand sanitizer at the registers and signs up asking people not to touch an item unless they’re relatively sure they want to buy it.
“We want what’s best for everybody, but everybody has a different idea of what’s best for them,” Hanney said. “So we just want everybody to be comfortable.”
Ron Freeby’s spot, Bottoms Up, is in the building across the street. They’ve been open the last two Saturdays, and he said customers are as eager to buy as he is to sell.
“They’re willing to shop,” he said. “They want to buy. They’re going to get out and find new things for their house.”
His shop will require face coverings, and they’re asking people to keep their distance from one another.
“There are some dealers here at the West Bottoms that do a little of both or don’t do any of it all,” Freeby said. “I just tell people to be prepared, bring a mask.”
Leanna Holdgraf and her husband Maurice have taken advantage of the quarantine time to work on projects and beef up inventory.
“You’ll find a lot more things in June because we’ve been able to, to kind of build up a backstop,” she said. “We continued to work, just not in the public.”
After purchasing eight gallons of hand sanitizer, she explains it will be more expensive to operate, but it’s well worth it if people come back and continue to support their vendors.
This group of entrepreneurs may be considered “non-essential” but if you ask them, they might offer a different definition.
“It’s not just a hobby,” Holdgraf said. “Some of us are retired, and many of us depend on the income. And Kansas City has always been wonderful to us, and I know they will again.”