Seminary — When Barbara Cranford retired in 1992 after 25 years of teaching first graders, she was looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Emil, and indulging her passion for antique shopping. She wouldn’t miss the hour-long daily commute from her home in rural Seminary to elementary schools in Hattiesburg.
There were a couple of unexpected detours, including her husband Emil’s heart surgery and his diagnosis with cancer in November 2003. He died four months later.
“All of a sudden, I had way too much time on my hands,” admitted Cranford. “I hung around the (family) drug store, talking to people and drinking coffee. I really didn’t have a hobby, other than going to antique auctions. After buying a few pieces of antiques, that’s about all I needed. When I ran out of room, I started selling them from my carport.”
In early 2005, Cranford gathered her three adult children — Bill, Sharon and Donna — and asked their opinion on turning an old family-owned building used for storage into an antique store. “Emil would have said, have you lost your mind, Barbara? I can just hear him now,” said Cranford, with a laugh. “I mean, Seminary is a small town. It isn’t exactly a high-traffic area. But it’s a mile from Highway 49 and my children encouraged me to do it.”
The family rolled up their sleeves and transformed the 1899 building that once housed the town’s post office into an upscale retail shop. Cranford’s daughter, Sharon, served as the primary interior decorator, painting the walls brick red, wrapping grapevine along the storefront, hanging stained glass in the picture windows and strategically dangling musically tuned wind chimes from the rafters.
She illuminated the storefront with warm yellow lights to showcase antique pieces, ranging from a variety of wardrobes and teacarts to tea sets, depression glass, a most unusual 100-year-old Scottish matchbox, a miniature early 1900s English double-decker bus with wire wheels and a 1939 London Times.
Barb’s Antique Corner opened on August 1, 2005, with only half of the 1,800 square feet used as a showroom. Within a couple of weeks, Cranford realized the partition separating the antiques in the backroom wasn’t needed. “Now y’all go on back there and look around, too,” she’d tell customers. And that’s where they would usually find something they couldn’t live without, such as an antique working sewing machine in its own treasure chest-looking case.
Less than a month after Cranford opened the store, high winds from Hurricane Katrina ripped part of the roof off the renovated building.
“We had a lot of problems with leaks so we were moving furniture all around for a while,” said Mike Wilcosky, Cranford’s son-in-law. “She’s got it looking real good now, and everything’s going better than any of us imagined.”
Soon after reopening on November 1, Cranford began to see more traffic. At first, folks dropped by just to look around and chat, and then sales began to climb. December sales increased 20% over the previous month, and 2006 sales look promising as South Mississippi enters a massive rebuilding program.
“Because I don’t have much of an overhead — the building is paid for, and it’s just me working here — my prices are lower than most,” said Cranford. “You wouldn’t believe the customers I get from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Leakesville and Hattiesburg. They see my ad in Mississippi Antiques, and the Saturdays the European Antique Auction is out here are my busiest days.”
On Founder’s Day, held annually on the first Saturday of November at the school campus across the street, and on other town holidays, Barb’s is a meeting place for returning Seminarians. Shoppers often catch the long-time choir member humming a familiar melody or reading a book, with Cranford’s loyal golden retriever, Judy, curled at her feet.
“I thoroughly enjoy meeting people,” said Cranford. “It’s a great way to see old friends and make new ones. I’m having so much fun.”
The Cranford family has boosted the appearance of Seminary’s Main Street. The nearby family pharmacy, once owned by Cranford’s husband and brother-in-law and now owned by the Wilcoskys, was recently expanded from 1,500 to 3,600 square feet. “We wanted to expand our gift and pharmacy section to make it more comfortable for our customers and ourselves,” said Wilcosky. “We added a soda fountain just for fun, but it’s become quite popular, providing a place for kids to go after school.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.