The crowds thronging the Virginia Street Antique Mall on Wednesday, May 15, made for a scene reminiscent of Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. Customers milled around the little vendor booths and stood patiently in long lines to pay for the treasures they’d found in them. But the mood was somber. Most shoppers that day knew it would be the last for the mall, which closed after occupying the brick building—formerly a Washoe Market grocery—on the corner of Arroyo and Virginia Streets for more than a quarter of a century.
Emerging from a small office space near the back of the building where she’d gone briefly to seek some privacy during the store’s final hours, owner Lisa Youell Jeanney stopped to chat.
“Everyone’s sad,” she said. “They almost got me crying today, so I’ve been working on payroll and just finished that. Everyone is sad and upset, and we’ve tried not to cry about it—because, you know, it’s kind of like a second home. Every day—I work every day.”
According to Jeanney, the closing of the antique mall, which had only been announced to the public a few days before, had come as somewhat of a surprise to her, too—the result of a decision by the landlord not to renew her lease.
“He’s the newest owner,” Jeanney said. “He has other plans for the building.”
Jeanney said she asked the owner, Weiye Lin of South Midtown Properties LLC, to renew the lease and was told that was not an option. Lin and his legal representation declined, for the time being, to answer the paper’s questions concerning what might be done with the property now.
“I’ve been here since the beginning—my mom and I as vendors,” Jeanney said. “We’ve been through other owners as well. Everyone has always been nice, and we’ve always had an option to renew every five years. We opened up the door to talking, negotiations, like, ’Hey, we’re coming up for renewal. Let’s talk. Let’s meet.’ And he said, ’No, there is no option. You’re done May 31.’ That was the last sentence in his letter. That’s all we got.”
Although the store will no longer be open, Jeanney’s not done working. Now, she’s turned her attention toward seeking a new location for the mall and its many vendors, though, so far, she’s not found something fitting.
“There have been a few places,” she said. “One main building was the option, but we couldn’t come to an agreement on the amount of square footage they’d be charging us for. And we’d like to stay on Virginia Street because it’s our name. It’s recognizable, and we have people that come from Italy every year, from anywhere in Europe. Especially with Burning Man, we have worldwide customers now.”
Jeanney said she believes that when the right property becomes available, the mall will reopen—and while some vendors are taking the closure as a chance to retire, “a good 95 percent that haven’t retired” are committed to coming with her—as are other employees, like maintenance person Robin Sanders, who’s been employed at the mall for three years.
“I will stay with the owner,” Sanders said. “As a neighboring business told us yesterday, ’She’s badass.’ I don’t doubt for a minute that she’s going to be able to come through. … And, you know, I’ve never had a place that I love to work. And I love working here. I’ve never missed a day since I started either.”
As the final day at the mall drew closer to a close, the crowds began to thin out just a little. Vendors packed the wares from their booths into boxes. Some had no interest in talking, but others chatted with one another and the customers. A few even sought out the journalists in the crowd, eager to share their opinions.
Vendor Duke E. Stacey, who specializes in Art Deco chromeware from the ’30s and ’40s had been selling his wares at the antique mall since it opened.
“Every customer that I’ve talked to is really saddened by this,” he said—but Stacey is among those who believe that Jeanney will find a way to reopen the mall.
“I’m going to go with Lisa,” he said. “I’ve known her and Margaret [her mother] since, like, 1985. So, Lisa was much younger then—and much shorter. She was just a little girl, almost, I think.”
Ron Huber, who had also been a vendor since the mall opened said he’s of the mindset that “when one door closes, another one opens.”
But does he think Jeanney is capable of opening the next door, one to a new location for the mall?
“I know she is,” Huber said. “I’ve been working with her on a couple of buildings. We’ve already got 11,000 feet committed right now by our vendors here.”