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Store owner collection enhances business


Gene Wessel has been a collector all his life, but the one thing he refuses to collect is dust.

Homespun Craft and Antique Mall, owned by Gene and Judy Wessel, draws many tourists to Farragut from all across the state.

“I advertise in all thirteen welcome centers across the state,” he said. “We don’t have any way to track it, but you’d be surprised how many people that stop into those tourist centers pick up one of our advertising cards and then come in here when visiting the Knoxville area.”

Wessel said the store offers a host of items. Dolls made by hand, collectibles, rocks painted to resemble animals, afghans, quilts, lamps and wood crafts are just a small sample of what the store has to offer. Customers can even find a selection of antiques available.

“Some people just aren’t craftsmen,” he said. “They are business people who go to estate sales and collect items they think people might want. You’d be surprised how much nostalgia shopping goes on because people want quality items that aren’t being made anymore.”

The store is divided into sections and individuals can rent space to sell their wares on a monthly basis. Depending on the size of the space, rental cost can run from $75 to $400 per month.

A service charge is also applied to any items sold. All vendors have a vendor number that is labeled on all their merchandise. When an item is sold, its service charge is essentially a percentage of the sale that Wessel earns.

“We also have a work program where a vendor can work one day a month and save about ten percent on their service charge,” Wessel said.

Wessel has what he calls “mall angels,” five part-time employees who are also vendors. He and his employees run the business.

“We run about seventy-five to eighty percent full all year round,” Wessel said, referring to the approximately 150 vendors who rent space in the mall.

The vendors come from all walks of life and enjoy making and selling the items, Wessel said.

“The only thing we won’t allow here is a large amount of duplication of items,” he said. “A small amount is expected because some of these vendors use the same suppliers.”

Wessel said collectors also come to the store seeking different merchandise, and some of the popular collector’s items include Coca-Cola memorabilia. Unfortunately for collectors, a lot of the Coke items in the store already belong to Wessel’s personal collection.

“I guess I’ve been collecting Coke items since I ran my own business in Chicago,” Wessel said. “A lot of the things here in the store are from my collection and are for display only.”

Wessel’s penchant for collecting items began when he was a boy growing up in southern Indiana. He said he had an uncle who worked for the John Deere company. This uncle would bring him the toy products the company was producing.

“ I have the only full collection of John Deere toys that have never been played with,” he said. “The company tried to buy it from me several years ago, but I declined. Those and the Coke collection will probably be divided among my daughters eventually.”

Wessel said he and his wife never planned to go back in business. He retired in the late 1980s and began looking at property in this area.

“We had always vacationed in this area and decided this is where we wanted to build our retirement home,” he said. “We moved down here in ninteen ninety five.”

The couple began to dabble in various business activities and Wessel said he eventually became a vendor in the Homespun Craft and Antique Mall, then under the ownership of Marie Vucinovich.

“She decided she wanted to move to Myrtle Beach and we negotiated until I bought the place,” he said.

The business at that time, he said, had about half the number of vendors it currently does. Through hard work and a constant search for new vendors and products, Wessel said the business has become profitable.

“When you work for yourself, you expect to put all your money back into the business,” he said.

The business gets a lot of Wessel’s time, but he said he has no plans for a second retirement.

“I’m having too much fun doing what I do,” he said.

 

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