The search for a place to start a regional antique mall took CJ Austin and Emory Vandiver all over the East Coast.
The Huntersville couple originally looked for 10,000 to 30,000 square feet of space. They came up with a list of 12 possibilities but none felt right until they got to number 10 – a 107-year-old former textile mill in Belmont.
At 67,000 square feet, the building was almost overwhelming, but it struck a cord with Austin and Vandiver.
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“We had a warm and fuzzy feeling about the place,” Austin said. “When we left, we sat in the car and said, ‘This is where our mall will be.’”
Open for four months, the Catawba River Antique Mall is one of the largest of its kind in North Carolina. Located one mile off Interstate 85 and a few minutes from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the mall is bringing in customers from “all over the place,” Austin said.
There are 372 booths with vendors coming from such places as Texas, Washington, D.C., and Germany.
In addition to antiques, shoppers can find items ranging from a 19th century butter churn to an original painting by surrealist Salvadore Dali and a Rembrandt print. Local artisans sell pottery and paintings. A designer boutique offers new and “gently used” clothing from Gucci and Prada, and will host a fashion show soon.
The mall has a photography studio where antiques are incorporated into the shoots.
On the third Thursday of each month, a live auction is held. People who buy antique furniture that needs upholstery can visit the mall’s fabric shop.
And coming soon is the River Cafe, which will serve soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts and premium coffees.
Vandiver is the son of retired NASCAR driver Jim Vandiver, a Winston Cup winner who drove from 1968 until 1983. Autograph sessions and visits by NASCAR drivers are in the plans .
The mall is in the former Majestic Mill building on Catawba Street, less than a mile from a new public park the city of Belmont plans to build along the Catawba River this year. Also nearby is the historic Chronicle Mill building that a local businessman hopes to renovate for possible residential/commmercial use.
Belmont Mayor Charlie Martin called the antique mall, which employs 12 people, a good anchor for the east side of town.
“It’s a great place,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s big –and they always have a lot of people.”
Austin is a Stanly County native who grew up in foster homes, worked as a waitress and moved up the ladder into restaurant management.
Vandiver is a Charlotte native who also owns Choice Trucks in Huntersville.
They met two years ago and took up antiques as a hobby. They began buying and selling antiques, and wanted to become vendors.
“There are some great malls in this area but there was no space available,” Austin said.
The couple decided to look into starting their own mall – a journey that led them to Belmont. Although they initially tried working with commercial real estate agents, they found the Majestic Mill on their own.
They were charmed by the size, the original maple hardwood floors, the history and legacy, and they signed a 10-year lease.
Vandiver grew up around antiques in his mom’s house and some of her relatives, but never had much interest in them. Now, with Austin by his side, it has become his passion.
“Just five or 10 years ago, I would never have thought about owning an antique mall,” he said. “Who knows what life will bring? I have always heard that the best jobs are doing something that you love. For us, it’s fun to go work every day.”