Woodstock Mall As Good As Ever
The News Gazette, July 05, 2005. Article by Bob Swisher.
I wrote about Lee Muto and her Colonial Antique Mall in Woodstock in a column in December 1999. At the time, I said it was all around one of the finest malls I had ever visited. Well, nothing has changed.|
A week ago, I stopped by unannounced on a Friday morning on my way back from a family vacation in northern Wisconsin. At the front door, a young woman asked me to sign the guest register and I noticed a small stack of photocopies of my 1999 column sitting on the counter. I mentioned to the woman that I had written the piece, and she immediately looked down at the postage-sized photo to compare it to my face. Then she asked if Lee knew I was coming, which of course she didn't. Lee and I had talked on the phone before but had never met. The woman said I could not have come at a better time, that Lee would really be glad to see me.
The entrance, or front yard, is well landscaped and full of flowers. The inside is clean and well organized; little did I know quite how clean I would find it, or why. The Chicago Tribune had been set to do a story on Lee, her mall, the apartment above it and the grounds but earlier that morning had to cancel. Their loss was my gain.
It turns out that Lee's building, located at 890 Lake Ave., just half a block off Route 47 North in Woodstock, covers almost 4 acres. The 115,000-square-foot structure, once a furniture store, now offers 35,000 feet of retail space, of which 5,000 square feet are devoted to Lee's restored items.
On this trip I got a grand tour and for the first time got to see what was behind the scenes - the complete working areas, office, receiving room for dealers to bring in their items and a small area for coffee, soft drinks and relaxation. The work and storage areas are immense, with one large room with four tables just for sanding and an equivalent space for staining and refinishing.
Lee is planning soon to set aside a large retail space for "Retro Floor & More" antiques and collectibles. All merchandise in this area will be pre-1979.
The crown jewel of my three-hour tour was getting to see Lee's 5,000-square-foot apartment above the store. I can't begin to tell you how impressed I was. The apartment reflects the best collection of restored wooden items I have ever seen in one place. Anyone who says you cannot mix oak with pine or walnut, or for that matter mix any wood with any other wood, should see the place.
It seems like a very long 165 miles from my house to Woodstock, but it really is worth the drive. I still believe Lee has the best all-around antique mall in Illinois. If you go, you won't get the grand tour I got, but you'll still find your time well spent.
Even the mall's web site - www.colonialantiquemall.com - is worth a visit. Not only does it describe the mall and restoration center, but it's filled with articles and tips about restoring furniture. The phone number at the mall is (815) 334-8960.
Bob Swisher has been a collector since he was a child. Questions or comments can be directed to Swisher by writing to The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-677, or by e-mail at email@example.com.