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Thrill of the hunt: antique store sells salvaged items

Freshly dusted pieces of antique furniture — piled high with aging doorknobs and hand-painted signs, whitewash chipping away from the wooden bases — line the aisles of Tallgrass Antiques, 312 Broadway, a locally owned antique store that mostly stocks architectural salvaged items.

Rich Uhlrich has collected antiques and architectural salvage for the last 25 years while working construction jobs. He also has sold antiques in various malls, storing excess inventory in his home.

“It began to take over the house, so we decided we needed a business,” Denise Uhlrich, Rich’s wife, said with a smile.

In November 2013, a building in Cottonwood Falls became available at a price the couple could afford with little overhead, so they decided to take the plunge and open their antique store.

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“We were a little hesitant because we weren’t sure how it would do,” Rich said.

Rich thought the store would be something they would do part time, but he said it has exceeded his expectations.

“I was going to put things in the front window with a phone number, and I wasn’t going to have to physically be here much,” Rich said. “But that didn’t last very long.”

Before they knew it, the makeshift wall that started out 15 feet from the front door kept getting moved back. Inventory started growing, and the wall disappeared. The entire store was filled to capacity with unique treasures.

“I was going to have a workshop in here, and now we rent room next door,” Rich said. “It’s not a bad problem to have.”

When Rich and Denise opened Tallgrass Antiques they said the downtown area was stagnant. The antique store, along with other businesses on Broadway, helped bring life back into the community.

“In a small town, it’s hard to have a business,” Rich said. “I take pride in the fact that we didn’t just open and fail. It makes me feel good that we’ve been able to get going.”

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The couple said they feel a devotion to the area, and they want to see it survive.

“We own property here,” Rich said. “Denise teaches in the school system. We have a stake in the community. We have some skin in the game. We have to keep it going.”

Denise, a high school English teacher, works at the store during the summer months when she’s not at school, giving Rich time to work on construction jobs he contracts through his job as a contractor. The rest of the year, however, Rich maintains the store while Denise teaches. They said owning a business together has made their relationship stronger.

“We cover for each other a lot,” Denise said. “We both know our role of what we do best,” Rich added.

Denise laughed as she said they don’t have to be nice to each other if they don’t want to, which happens sometimes. But, at the end of the day, they know their place within the business and know what it takes to make sure the business survives.

— Sean Jones

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