Belle Starr Antiques Mall is a magnet for downtown Fort Smith visitors
Celebrating her third year in business in July, Belle Starr Antique Mall's owner Beth Templeton is sitting pretty. Her downtown antiques, collectibles and vintage mall is a hopping place with a constant flow of browsing customers.
“What girl my age can get up every day and go to her dream job?” Templeton said. In the antiques business, every day is a surprise and an adventure, she said, because almost anything can come in.
Movie poster, hat box, advertising sign, fountain pen, vintage cotton apron, gasoline pump? She's delighted by the unexpected. No two days are alike. Each vendor's area in the mall is a small shop in itself and the more than 60 stalls are arranged to lead a visitor on an irresistible tour through the cleverly designed floor plan. Some are filled with antique or vintage furniture, others with a focus on glassware or perhaps vinyl LPs. Most are a glorious mix of eclectic finds.
Templeton is at the front counter, greeting everyone and ringing up sales, answering questions or phoning a seller to help a shopper find out more about an item. She is obligated to do double customer service: the store's many vendors are her customers as much as the shoppers who come through the door.
With apparently boundless energy, she also posts on Facebook many times a day, popping on just-arrived merchandise or sending a picture at the request of a customer. As soon as a picture appears online, someone else usually inquires about another antique in the shot, sending Templeton scurrying away to the far corners of the 8,000-square-foot store. “I can be showing a lamp," she said, "and they'll ask about everything else in the picture!”
And just for more pressure, many responses turn into a online race to purchase or reserve the coveted item, followed by many posts of, “Darn it! Too late!” or “Oh, I really wanted that!”
“It's a lot of work,” she admitted. But it's a social buzz one suspects she really enjoys. Along with merchandise, she frequently posts pictures of cute baby customers or her little dog, Louie, just for the fun of it. It's her genuine friendliness and enjoyment that has made both the real store and the virtual store popular.
She's also into old-fashioned neighborliness and made friends quickly with other downtown merchants, often touting a lunch special at a nearby restaurant or markdown at a store around the corner. Templeton loves the “First Thursday” concept of downtown stores staying open in the evenings one night of the month and plans to recruit and re-invigorate the idea in August, she said.
“First Thursdays have been my favorite time with customers,” she said. “We all have fun. I want more stores to do it so people can shop, have dinner and drinks and be offered sales.”
Earlier this year, Templeton was amazed to be nominated for a Grit Award from the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau - the Polly Crews Hospitality Person of the Year award. Beth said she was overwhelmed to even be included, having only adopted Fort Smith as a new hometown a few years ago, but hers was an understandable selection. As one of the most-visited merchants downtown, she is often the first local person to greet tourists and she enthusiastically points them to attractions.
It's just the friendly thing to do, she said.
Belle Starr Antique Mall
21 North 4th Street, Fort Smith
On Facebook as Belle Starr Antiques and Belle Starr Antique Mall