Antique 'museum' drawing shoppers to Kirwin

Sunday, April 9, 2006

KIRWIN, Kan. -- Antique shopping at the Ole Lumber Yard in Hays is like visiting a museum.

Randy Vaughn credits his wife, Cheryl Rader, for the atmosphere.

"It's entirely Cheryl's vision. She's brilliant when it comes to this stuff. I'm just the back," Vaughn said of the shop.

The business name comes naturally since a lumber yard once extended from the current building to the corner.

"Kirwin used to be a booming town. This was the place," Vaughn said.

Opening an antiques shop also was a given since the couple started collecting 15 years ago.

"It's a passion. My wife is the gal who always had foresight. She had the idea to make it look like a museum," Vaughn said.

Though it has a museum atmosphere, children are welcome. Long-term residents also visit the shop as an organized activity, and local school children take field trips there.

"Cheryl combines old folks with young," Vaughn said. "She had first-grade students at the same time as seniors. The kids hear them talk, and they're mesmerized by it."

The 4,500 square-foot area is arranged in theme rooms such as a 1950s kitchen with red and white decor, a doll room and an Indian room.

A native of Plattsburgh, N.Y., in the Champlain Valley, the couple moved to Kansas in 1998 and opened the shop four years ago. Most of the pieces come from upstate New York and auctions in Alburgh, Vt.

Among the more unusual pieces are a primitive buggy jack and cowboy bathtub that hung on a covered wagon.

"They sat in it and poured water over themselves," Vaughn said.

He admits that some pieces will be hard to part with, like the Hobart Cable cabinet grand piano and the unique Murphy bed that looks like a dresser.

"My sons slept on it," Vaughn said of the bed. "You could buy it in 1903 from Sears for $14."

However, Vaughn is firm on the price of $5,000.

Since Kirwin's population is less than 300, the business has to draw shoppers from other towns. Many are from northwest Kansas, but they have had visitors sign in from South Africa and other countries.

Vaughn said their reputation for good quality furniture at reasonable prices is what leads to their success.

Though not for sale, Kirwin memorabilia is prominently displayed. The couple owns the bank building next door and uses some items salvaged from it to display other items.

They plan to punch a hole in the north wall of the shop and add 60 feet of space to the antique store.

They've had a number of requests from area residents to sell items on consignment, and the additional space will be used for that, Vaughn said.

"We're not looking to make a million dollars at it. It's a passion," Vaughn said. "We're trying to preserve the past and protect the future."

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