Business

Eclectic Mrs. O'Leary's like 'five different stores' in one

Mrs. O'Leary's can't be summed up in one word, unless that word happens to be eclectic.

The Old Town business is gift store, arts and crafts workshop, massage studio and restaurant all rolled up in one (and that doesn't even include the vintage clothes, furniture and technology that would be at home in a museum).

"End to end, it's like five different stores," said Joni Russell, who owns Mrs. O'Leary's with her husband, Mark. "I don't think there's another shop like it."

The Russells opened Mrs. O'Leary's in 1992, making it Old Town's oldest retail business.

After six months in a space on Mosley, they moved to the current location on Rock Island, which had been a boarded-up warehouse. With friends and family, they spent two months restoring the 100-year-old building, where they use about 5,000 square feet of space.

For much of Mrs. O'Leary's history, Joni Russell's focus has been on its arts and crafts workshops and the sale of related supplies. The shop usually offers three classes a week on such topics as mixed media assemblage, scrapbooking and cold connection. Customers can rent studio time as well.

In April, the Russells took over operation of the front of the store from a vendor who'd been leasing it from them and operating it as Nannie's Niche. Since then, vendors selling things like new children's clothes, scrapbook supplies and lace have been added.

One section, called "Isabella Marie's," is named for Joni's mother, who's deceased. Joni and other vendors fill it with clothes, housewares and other items that remind them of their mothers.

"It's the idea of what our mothers taught us," Joni said. "We want to bring back these things and value them."

The shop has enough nooks and crannies to make visiting an all-day affair. Up a short flight of stairs is the "boudoir reading room," where customers can relax with art books. Thursday through Saturday, the shop offers light fare around an old-fashioned lunch counter.

The Russells hit out-of-the-way markets for items like shells and beads used in jewelry making. The shop designs and produces its own original rubber stamps under the "Artful Illusions" label.

One trend that seems custom-made for Mrs. O'Leary's is the "steampunk" movement, and the Russells are trying to cater to it. Steampunk is usually described as a combination of 19th century and science fiction. Aficionados might incorporate a component of a vintage camera into jewelry or another adornment. The shop has hosted gatherings of local steampunk fans.

Nevertheless, Joni declares some things in Mrs. O'Leary's off-limits, like a wind-up Victrola record player and a cash register used by her great-grandfather, who ran a grocery in Riverside.

"There are things I can't take apart — that's history," she said.

The couple's children are involved, too. Two years ago, the Russells added a massage studio, Zenful Indulgence, owned by their daughter, Faron. Their son, Travis, an artist in St. Louis, produces T-shirts with original designs that are sold in the store.

Yet another aspect of the place involves the Brickyard, the open-air restaurant and club that Mark Russell owns next door. In good weather, the shop may hold its workshops or feed its customers on the patio.

"We co-exist a lot," Joni said.

Despite the shop's history, Joni Russell feels at times like more out-of-towners than Wichitans know of Mrs. O'Leary's. For instance, a third of the 27 people attending last weekend's workshop traveled from out of state.

Partly that's because Russell travels herself to give workshops in other parts of the country. That's where she finds many of the unusual items in Mrs. O'Leary's.

To raise the shop's profile, the Russells are working on making the storefront and porch more attractive. They may start offering brunch on the porch on Saturdays.

"We keep thinking: Quit adding this stuff on!" Joni Russell said.

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