Zinnias at Melrose Mall, a treasure trove beloved by antiques connoisseurs across metro Phoenix, is closing Feb. 28 after almost a decade in Phoenix’s Melrose District.

The building boasts an exterior emblazoned with bright murals designed by local artists and a 10,000-square-foot interior filled with vintage items. Shoppers can find anything from authentic naval uniforms and original Polaroid cameras to used street signs and a vintage Bennington flag.

Mike Hardesty is the visionary behind the shop he calls “beautiful, organized chaos.” He caught the vintage and antiques bug while shopping at estate sales and selling items on the side. Armed with a newfound passion, he decided to start an antiques mall.

“I was pulled in by the thrill of the hunt and the history of the items,” he said. “I always try to learn about the history of the items I buy so I can pass on the knowledge when I sell them.”

A unique antiques experience

Zinnias is no ordinary antiques shop. For one, it is an antiques mall.

Confused about the difference? Hardesty explained it simply. An antiques shop is usually just a store filled with a collection of items the owner has found and is selling.

But an antiques mall, like Zinnias, is a facility that allows vendors to rent spaces in the shop to showcase their own art or pieces they’ve found. This setup helped achieve one of Hardesty’s main goals — to make it a place where everyone could feel welcome.

Whether it was older customers shopping for their Pyrex collections, college students trying to find affordable but unique apartment decor, or collectors looking for something specific, Hardesty said he wanted to appeal to everyone.

“I wanted to create a place where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic standings, and ages felt like they belonged,” he said. “I feel lucky because I really think we accomplished what we set out to do.”

Hardesty used his interest in technology to set himself apart from other antiquers. He cultivated a large social media following and used it to his advantage by advertising and selling items on the store’s Instagram page.

His was one of the first antique malls in the country to develop an inventory cloud. Zinnias employees have access to the inventory from iPads they use in the store, so they can search for specific items or types of items customers want.

The cloud also allows store employees to input customers’ interests, needs or collections into a database. The store can then contact the customer if an item matching his or her interest arrives. The customer is emailed a photo, essentially giving that person first dibs on the item.

“If we have a customer come in and say they collect Coca-Cola items, we’ll put them down and tag Coca-Cola with their name,” Hardesty said. “Then if we get an item in or any of our vendors find a Coca-Cola item, they’ll input it and any customers with Coca-Cola tagged on their name will receive an email.”

A new community

The shop has garnered a sort of cult following over the years. It’s a melting pot of regular customers whose homes, restaurants and businesses are adorned with pieces they found hidden among the gems Zinnias has to offer.

Hardesty forged a new community, brought together by a collective love of old items.

Stephanie Lieb is a self-proclaimed die-hard fan of the store. She said a friend recommended Zinnias to her in 2012, and she never looked back.

Lieb said she didn’t have any experience shopping vintage at the time, but her mom wanted to recruit an interior decorator friend to help decorate her daughter’s condo as a Christmas gift. When asked about her style, Lieb said she was interested in a more vintage look and said a friend had recommended Zinnias.

The ladies ended up purchasing almost everything for the condo there.

Since then, Lieb bought a house, which was built in 1955, and got more involved in the Modern Phoenix neighborhood group, which focuses on Midcentury Modern homes and areas in Phoenix.

She said she credits Zinnias with her love of antiques and vintage style, and she loves how unusual the store is with its collection of items from the past, sold in a very tech-savvy way.

“I love that they post stuff on Instagram and stuff,” Lieb said. “I buy a lot of things directly through Instagram now.”

Giving a new business its wings

Lance Lockhart met Hardesty at the Thieves Market in 2015. Lockhart, a captain for Southwest Airlines, told him about a business he was working to create on Etsy, selling aviation-themed art.

Hardesty invited him to be a partner in one of his spaces at Junk in the Trunk Market in May 2015. Lockhart said the opportunity gave him the biggest sales increase he had seen at the time.

“He gave me the boost from just a little bit of sales to, at the time, it was the highest-grossing sale I had been a part of,” Lockhart said. “Since that time, I have had pieces in his store and we’ve sort of become contemporaries.”

Lockhart said his business has grown so big that he doesn’t need to do in-person sales events. Now he primarily sells items through shops like Zinnias and his Etsy store, Wyldebyrd Art, which he said is the No. 1 Etsy aviation store in the country.

“When I say he helped propel me to the next level, I’m not kidding,” Lockhart said. “The money I made when I worked with Mike at the Junk in the Trunk Market allowed me to buy the pieces I needed to expand my reach, and for that I am forever grateful.”

Lockhart said the thing that keeps people coming back to Zinnias is the tight-knit community they immediately feel upon entering the doors. He compared it to the bar in “Cheers.” 

“Every store has its Norm, it has its Woody, it has that Cheers atmosphere. And Zinnias definitely had that,” Lockhart said. “When you have those long-standing employees, people want to come back.”

Zinnias employees knew their customers, and they would look out for items they knew people were looking for. He said they knew the store’s inventory and were always able to help people find what they needed to complete their collection or add the finishing touch to their home.

Celebration of life

Marshall Shore, a historian who has been a vendor at Zinnias for almost seven years, is helping to organize a sort of last hurrah for the shop with bands and food trucks and one big party.

He said the shop deserves a proper farewell; he credits it as the start of what he now calls “Antiques Alley” on Seventh Avenue. After Zinnias started becoming popular, more antiques shops opened in the area, forming a community.

Now they have the Melrose on 7th Avenue Street Festival once a year, shutting down the street from Indian School to Camelback to celebrate the shops and bring the community together.

“Zinnias was there before Seventh Avenue really became Antiques Alley,” he said. “It was the first one there, and it’ll be the first to go.”

The “last hurrah” will be Feb. 17, and Shore said it will likely be an all-day event. He encourages anyone who has shopped at Zinnias to come out and be a part of the festivities.

“Zinnias very much was a community,” Shore said. “As a person who sold there, I’ve made some great friends, so that’s why I’m so happy to do it. We just want to say thank you so much for letting us do what we love.”

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