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Closing of antique business leaves big vacancy in downtown Evansville

EVANSVILLE The owner of an antique store blames the economy as a major factor in her plans to close at month’s end, leaving a large vacancy in the center of downtown Evansville.

Windmill Antiques and Co., 7 E. Main St., occupies about 6,000 square feet in the Eager Economy Building, which was restored in 2008.

The store opened in September 2008 and featured antiques from as many as 23 dealers at its highest point, owner Jean Wyse said. Business was great until this year, she said.

When gas prices started climbing in January, “we saw an immediate reduction in traffic coming from the Milwaukee area and Illinois,” she said. “People are just making choices on how they’re going to spend their gas (money), and Evansville is just a little off the beaten path, and that had a big impact.”

The closing will leave a vacancy “in a very major part of the heart of downtown,” she said.

A disappointed Roger Berg, one of the building’s owners, said the owners plan to market the space.

“It’s too important for the downtown and to the project. We can’t leave it vacant,” he said.

The former ACE Hardware building was restored to include 18,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and eight loft apartments on the second floor. The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the restoration as one of its 2009 Preservation Awards recipients.

The $2.4 million restoration included $280,000 from a state loan and $503,000 in city tax incremental financing money.

“It just adds more inventory of space into a downtown that’s still fragile in its business district,” Berg said.

The soon-to-be-vacated space could be split into as many as three units, and owners would like to see it used for retail or a restaurant, he said.

“In these times, we can’t really be picky because there’s not a whole lot to pick from,” he said.

Wyse and some of her dealers plan to continue selling their items at Odana Antiques in Madison, while other dealers are leaving the area for good, she said.

While just a “sprinkling” of dealers remain, sales of 20 to 40 percent off will be offered before the store closes, she said.

“I’m just sad to leave after 20 years of giving of my life in downtown Evansville,” said Wyse, who sold antiques in the city before Windmill Antiques. “It was a difficult decision for me to make, but it’s time to let go and move on.”