By Stephanie Finnegan
Jeanette and Ivert Mayhugh have been married for 53 years, and their marital partnership has extended into an everyday business one as well. Eschewing the warning that spouses should not work together, the Mayhughs have been the proprietors of A Touch of Class Antique Mall since August 1997. The couple bought the 38,000-square-foot, three-story building in February of that year. Interestingly, they bought it not once, but twice, in a single day.
“Let me explain,” Ivert states with a headshake. “The main problem was the building’s size. We bought it in the morning, but by noon we had changed our minds. Jeanette began thinking that it was so big, it was spooky. We told the seller that we couldn’t go through with the deal and we would forfeit the earnest money.”
However, after some deep soul-searching and some mutual confidence building, they decided to go ahead with the plan. “We have always been adventurous,” Jeanette chimes in.
A second phone call to the seller inquired if the building was still available. It was, and the Mayhughs inked the deal.
“Even though we faltered briefly, we knew this building — with its prime downtown location and massive size — would make a perfect antiques mall. We knew this afforded us the chance to operate a mall and share equally our love of antiques, history, and retailing,” Ivert concludes.
A Touch of Class is located in Sherman, Texas, on the courthouse square. “Sherman was founded in 1846, at the time that the Republic of Texas became a state,” history buff Ivert shares.
Both husband and wife are enthusiasts about the past, which is a perfect temperament to have when dealing with vintage and antique goods. Jeanette and Ivert are transplants to Texas — they originally hail from Washington State — but they have steeped themselves in the culture and cultural activities of their adopted hometown.
In fact, the Mayhughs are so smitten with the traditions of their town and the North Texas region that they have opened up a museum within their mall to commemorate and celebrate the local lore. “We have Sherman/Denison directories dating back to 1876, as well as Texas maps dating back to 1849, which we often use for research,” Jeanette details. “We feature items from a local 1800s printing press business, a shoe store, Woodmen’s Circle Home and Orphanage, and Miss Tucker’s shortening research lab.
One of our favorite collections is our vintage photography equipment, portrait to miniature cameras, tintype photo collection, photo albums, and movie projectors. We have two hair wreaths, which were used as memorial objects before photography was readily available. We collect presidential memorabilia, especially Teddy Roosevelt because he visited Sherman on April 6, l905, and drew a crowd of over 30,000 people. People are intrigued by our toy collection and copies of letters to Santa printed in the Dallas Morning News in 1899 and 1900. Back then, children asked for oranges, nuts, roman candles, dolls, books, and toy trucks! No sign of electronics or TV in those days,” she laughs.
Today, husband Ivert is very much in demand as a guest speaker talking about the business district, the outlaws, the Butterfield Stage connection, and the pioneers that populated the region and the events that unfolded around them. It is a source of pride that their antique mall both preserves and displays artifacts from the past as exhibitions and as for-sale purchases.
“Tour groups often visit our store,” Ivert remarks. “We are often included as a shopping destination before or after lunch. Besides shopping and a free museum, we have available literature and maps on hand focusing on what to do and see throughout North Texas. So many travelers tell us that we are the best mall that they have ever visited, and many come back year after year. Our establishment does not look like a retrofitted onetime supermarket. Our layouts — particularly our mezzanine — really add class and spaciousness to our store. When people stop by, they are stepping back in time.”
Shoppers and browsers at A Touch of Class are immersed in a wonderland of fine furniture, jewelry, books, coins, ephemera, and all types of trappings from days gone by. “Most of our large antique pieces, Victorian sofas, sideboards, ten-foot pier mirror, and armoires are located on the third floor, where the ceilings are extra high,” Jeanette narrates. “We sell lots of American oak, primitives, shabby chic, Art Deco, and western furniture. Also available are quality glassware, every kind of kitchen item, fine antique jewelry and costume jewelry, vintage clothing, linens, sewing items, and the most unusual things. For the guys, popular collectibles include toys, toys, toys!” Jeanette states with a chuckle. “They like everything from all sizes of toy cars to merry-go-round horses. Coins, vintage paper money, sports cards, military, straight-edge razors, pocketwatches, oil cans, ice chests, tools, neon beer signs, all metal signs, and primitives are popular for the men. Ladies can pick from a large selection of sewing items, including thimbles, buttons, and baskets. Bakelite, rolling pins, tablecloths, teacups and saucers, sterling silverware and Victorian silver pieces, cut crystal, and fine china are popular, too.”
As owners of a sprawling, multistoried emporium, the Mayhughs have definite, designed duties. Ivert, who retired from a highly successful career with Frito Lay®, draws upon his vast business know-how. “Ivert takes on the time-consuming tasks of bookwork and keeping track of the daily business, as well as keeping track of the annual business, comparing sales and trends. He repairs and moves the heavy pieces of furniture. Most people don’t realize that every time you sell something big, it requires a lot of reorganizing,” Jeanette attests. “I spend most of my time with customers, communicating with the staff, dealers, consignees, and renting booth space and decorating. With all of the things we do, we have the support of a great staff. They can totally run the business when we are gone. We both are equally enthused and involved with our private museum. We both go to the mall every day, which is a real commitment since we are open seven days a week.”
Being on the premises so frequently gives the husband-and-wife team a unique perspective on what sells and what doesn’t. Like all businesses that deal with the public, there is a traceable ebb and flow of what is hot and what is not.
“When we first opened about 15 years ago, wardrobe cabinets, or armoires, were very popular. These weren’t just for older homes without closet space, but also for newer homes to hide TV sets. Now, there are flat screens that people want to show off! Trends vary from place to place, and the age of the collector plus the economy are major factors in what people buy,” Ivert theorizes. “Architectural and shabby chic pieces remain strong. Old screen doors and paned windows are always hot. Most young people today have no idea who Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, or Gene Autry is. Instead, they are more interested in early models of DOS-based computers and cell phones.”
The dealers who rent booths and space at the mall are reflective of the Mayhughs’ commitment to valuing the past. “We sell anything and everything that is old, fun, and interesting,” Ivert declares. “We just sold a very rare, old, hand-cranked gasoline pump — the kind that displayed gasoline at the top so you could see what and how much you were buying. We take pride in our extensive selection of treasures for everyone and every pocketbook.”
Jeanette firmly maintains that one of the keys to their success, and the mall’s strong survival for the past decade and a half, is her and Ivert’s birth dates: “We were Depression Era babies and grew up during a time when people reused everything until it had no more usefulness.” The couple was into recycling and refurbishing before the green movement was launched, and their dealers and staff share that same viewpoint, if not the same backgrounds.
“We have around 50 vendors in our mall. Many of them have been with us since we opened in the summer of 1997. Many have expanded and have anywhere up to seven booth spaces,” Jeanette observes. “In addition, we take in a lot of quality consignment pieces, which allows us to move things around so they have eye appeal. We mix some of our personal items with consignment in order to keep booths looking full and well decorated. I get a lot of help from the staff coordinating the booths. Claudia, Nora, and Betty have been with us since the first year and keep everything in order. We give a lot of credit to our dealers who spend extra time at the mall maintaining their booths and helping out over and beyond their workdays. We seem to provide a ‘clubhouse’ atmosphere, and everyone helps each other.”
At a Touch of Class Antique Mall, there is more than just a touch of class — there is a definite spirit of knowledge, kinship, and kindness that abounds.
“After all these years, we are still happy and thrilled to go to work each day,” the Mayhughs say, “and we daily appreciate our business and all of our customers.” That’s the best endorsement of all.