One of the most popular antique malls in the area, the I-44 Antique Mall is strategically located right off the highway. Visitors often stop in during road trips across state lines, and they love the excellent pieces they find there. You’ll find high-quality, curated pieces here for any collection, including petroliana (oil company signs and collectibles), Frankoma pottery, vintage toys, sports memorabilia, furniture, marbles and buttons. If you can imagine collecting it, you’ll probably find it here.
Antique. For some people, the word conjures up outdated, broken-down attic items stacked in messy piles, maybe worth something, maybe not. For others, it evokes memories of our grandparents’ homes, filled with old-fashioned knick-knacks that have slowly gone out of style.
But at the I-44 Antique Mall, you’ll discover a literal treasure trove of well-kept, unique, delightful collector’s items, vintage treats, and some unexpected treasures that will prove that antiquing, when done right, can be downright magical.
You might wonder what sets this business apart from other vintage stores, and the answer is simple. Owner Kathy Anthamatten makes sure that when you walk in, you’ll find things in her store that you won’t find anywhere else. “I try to keep it so it’s not stuff you can buy elsewhere,” she says. That not only means items you can’t find on a shopping trip to Dallas, but also anything you can’t find in the typical antique shops you may be used to.
“There’s a little bit of everything here,” Anthamatten says, “and it’s not the regular stuff. That’s what I hear over and over from people who travel the United States.”
Buyers come from all over the states, and even internationally, to visit the I-44 Antique Mall, which — as its name suggests — is tucked nicely along the highway for easy access when collectors come through town and want to stop in. Its current location is not far from its original spot in 1996 when the store first opened.
Since then, the market has moved twice; first to the area of 51st and Lewis, where they stayed until the area was designated for use in highway construction, then to its existing spot at 51st and Peoria, where it can be seen from the Interstate. But even with those changes, many of the dealers that sold through the Antique Mall when it first opened are still participating. It’s a testament to how much of a local fixture the Antique Mall is, as well as how dedicated Anthamatten and her husband, who have owned the shop since 1996, are to making the business a success.
Its spot near the highway is an essential key to business, Anthamatten says. “We’ve needed to stay on the highway,” she notes, “because that’s where most of our business is from.” Billboards bring in those who are passing through and are glad to do a little shopping. But much of the Antique Mall’s business comes from regulars who come through with the specific intention of stopping to shop the antiques. “We have customers who come in yearly,” Anthamatten notes. “They come in either with the gun show [Tulsa’s annual event], or they drive through the area yearly.”
Kay, one of the Mall’s dealers and a helper behind the checkout counter (all the dealers help man the store) says you never know where people will come from. “The other day,” she says, “there were two or three people in here who came from Indiana. They were on vacation or had been at a conference. You just don’t know who you’ll see.” Anthamatten agrees, adding that many people stop in while they are in town for the Route 66 Marathon. “A couple of weeks ago, it was Australia,” she adds, laughing. “They were all from Australia. It’s amazing.”
“The Mall even gets its share of celebrities stopping in to browse,” Kay says with a laugh. “I was working one Saturday when the Black Keys (the musical group) were in town. One of them walked in with his girlfriend. They were looking at unusual things that you wouldn’t think a young couple would look at.” She wouldn’t say if they’d left a signed receipt for the rest of us to drool over, but that’s why you want to visit the I-44 Antique Mall. You literally don’t know what — or who — you’ll find there on any given day.
That’s part of the fun and the magic. Another part is the quality of the items to choose from.
Right now, there are around 50 dealers who sell through the Antique Mall. Kay and her sister are among them, and Kay says they do it for the fun of it. “We have time to do it,” she says, because both she and her sister are retired, and they enjoy it. Other dealers are younger than they are, while some are older. A few are in their 80s. Many dealers live outside Tulsa. Some travel to the East Coast to buy new items. One dealer, says Anthamatten, takes yearly trips to France where she fills up her suitcases with items to sell in Tulsa.
Every single one of these dealers revamps their area of the store on a regular basis, so if you see something that you want when you visit, you’d better snap it up. Next time you visit, it may be gone.
The entire store is brightly lit, neatly organized, and easy to walk through as you browse — a peaceful and happy environment that most antique stores simply do not match. Expensive items, breakables, and weather-sensitive items are stored in glass shelves that line the store from front to back. If you’re a collector, that’s the kind of care you want to see a store like this maintain.
If you’re not a collector don’t worry. You can start anytime, with anything you like. That’s another part of the magic.
“You can’t even imagine the stuff people collect,” says Anthamatten. This explains the vast variety of items that you’ll see when you peruse the shelves: sports memorabilia, collectible Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars in their original packaging, vintage costume jewelry, beaded purses, record albums, old signage, movie posters, the Batman Animated Series McDonald’s Happy Meal collection (complete, of course). And that doesn’t cover the half of what you’ll find.
“We sell a lot of advertising items,” Anthamatten says. They also sell a lot of oilcans. Anything related to the oil industry sells well, apparently.
“There are people who just collect buttons,” adds Kay. “There’s even a button club in town.” In fact, the club met recently at the Antique Mall to browse through the baskets of vintage buttons available.
Many of the items the shop carries are things you will never see at another antique store, which Anthamatten and all her regular customers can attest to. But they don’t shy away from offering what people love to collect. So, you’ll also find the usual Steuben glassware, Fiesta ware, Limoge, Staffordshire, and other popular name-brand collectibles, especially Frankoma pottery, which is in high demand these days.
The 50-odd dealers who have space in the I-44 Antique Mall are people Anthamatten trusts. And she holds them to a set of standards. She instructs them to label each item clearly, according to exactly what they know about the item and nothing else. If all you know is that it’s a basket, she says, then label it “basket” and leave it at that. It ensures that there is no misleading advertising, no promises that dealers can’t live up to. Besides, collectors who are looking for something are trained to recognize it, regardless of the labels. As Anthamatten puts it, “If customers are looking for a particular item for a collection, they’ll know it when they see it.”
If you’ve never been to the I-44 Antique Mall, you should add it to your Tulsa bucket list. Anthamatten, dealers like Kay, and even the regular customers will welcome you with a smile. After all, meeting people is one of the reasons they do what they do.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Anthamatten. “It’s just really a lot of fun.”
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