5 minute read

Brown County Antique Mall

~story and photos by Paige Langenderfer

Many people spend so much time at work that it begins to feel like home. But for Cheri Sumter, work literally is her home.

When she bought the Brown County Antique Mall 28 years ago, Cheri was looking for a fresh start. She had just finished a 30-year career at the phone company in Indianapolis and was ready for a change. When she heard the mall was for sale, Cheri jumped at the opportunity.

“I bought the property as a residence and a business,” she said. “The main floor is an antique mall and the second floor is where I live.”

The property, located 3 miles east of Nashville on Indiana 46 East, had been operating as an antique mall since 1972, but Cheri knew nothing about running an antique mall.

“It was all new to me,” she said. “I was in my 40s, I didn’t collect anything and I had never run a business. But, I was motivated to learn.”

She divided the property into spaces that antique sellers could rent. “A lot of people think that it is all one big store and that I own and sell everything,” Cheri said. “The reality is that there are dozens of merchants selling items.”

The Brown County Antique Mall has about 75 spaces that merchants can rent.

“In 28 years, I’ve never had an empty space,” Cheri said. “I always have a waiting list of people that want to rent a space.”

Sellers mostly live in Brown County and surrounding counties, but Cheri said she has had sellers from as far away as Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Chicago. One current seller lives in Ohio.

“It really is an interesting business,” she said. “Some people only have a space in our mall, but several of them have spaces elsewhere. One seller has 28 spaces across the state. People have different reasons for doing it. Some people like the hunt for items. I even had one lady who was a dumpster diver.”

Sellers pay a monthly fee for a space in the mall.

“It is their own business inside the mall,” Cheri said. “Each space has a sign to show the name of the seller. They set up the space. They price the items.”

Three of Cheri’s grandchildren rent spaces in the mall.

“I am teaching them about the business,” she said. “It is a good learning experience for them because they are learning about money and investing and just business in general.”

The mall employee works at the counter and checks out customers.

“Each seller has an assigned number,” Cheri said. “That number is on each price tag so that we know who the sale goes to.”

Items for sale mostly fit into two categories: antiques and collectibles.

“People collect everything. I always say, if I grew up with it, it’s a collectible,” said Cheri, laughing. “A lot of people don’t realize that an item has to be more than 100 years old for it to be considered an antique.”

While she has never considered herself a collector, Cheri said she has grown to appreciate the stories behind the items.

“History was my worst subject when I was in school,” she said. “But when you talk about the items that people used in their homes and in their everyday lives, it puts a whole new spin on history. Now, it’s my favorite subject.”

As she approaches her 30th anniversary in business, Cheri said talking with customers is still her favorite part of the job.

“I love talking to people and learning where they’re from, what they do and what they collect,” she said. “I have many repeat customers and long-time customers and it has been fun to see them over the years. Some even come back with their kids and grandkids years later.”

Some customers buy items to decorate their homes, while others buy items to add to a growing collection.

“It just really is a very interesting business,” she said.

“Everyone has a very unique reason for why they want an item.”

While most customers are relatively local, Cheri said a handful of celebrities have visited the mall including various Indiana governors and their wives.

Cheri Sumter with her husband and partner Terry.

Cheri Sumter with her husband and partner Terry.

“Tony Stewart stopped and bought fishing lures,” she said. “And (Hollywood producer) Jerry Bruckheimer’s wife came in. She had a whole entourage of bodyguards with her. She was renovating a space and needed some items to decorate with.”

Cheri said she has no plans for retirement and is always thinking of ways to grow the business.

“Every year, I’ve tried to do something to enhance the mall. I have added additional rooms, built two additional buildings, and built a two-story, five car garage for storage,” Cheri said. “I always want to continue to grow and learn.”

The Brown County Antique Mall is open 362 days a year, every day but Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

For more information, visit <www.browncountyantiques.com>.