Ruth Mackie, nearly 30 years in Culver’s downtown, retires Bear End, Collectors
As the years have rolled in, not many local businesspeople continue to be familiar faces in Culver from 25-plus years back, but Ruth Mackie's is just such a familiar face, though after almost three decades as a staple of Culver's downtown business community, she's preparing to bid the Collectors antique store and the Bear End farewell, after this summer.
Mackie, a Culver High School graduate and lifelong resident whose father had been a school teacher and later a printer at Culver Academy, says she began dabbling in antiques in the early 1980s, as she and late husband Ronald (a World War II veteran who had once been a German prisoner of war, and who passed away in 2000), began clearing out her parents' household things. Prior to that, she had worked for the Culver Citizen, the Academy bookstore, the Culver Inn, and even the Snyder Cafe at Jefferson and Main Streets, she recalls.
Prior to opening the Collectors, she threw in her lot with Country Cousins, an antique shop across the street from her present store at 110 South Main Street. She began renting space of her own (in the north section only) at 110 South Main in 1982, though eventually the family would buy the building. The south portion of the building would later be rented to Mary Tanguy for the first incarnation of her Mary's Shoppe, though various entities had made use of that portion of the building prior.
Mackie, in the early to mid-1990s, bought the smaller, one-story structure at 114 South Main, at auction. Early in the Mackies' ownership of it, Jean Snyder's Thru the Grape Vine shop occupied the space, prior to Mary's Shoppe moving in (sharing space with Nancy Baxter). Tanguy would relocate Mary's Shoppe to 102 South Main, site of today's Culver Academies Museum & Gift Shop, around 2000, leaving the building open for a new hobby of Ruth Mackie's.
Around 1990, when she took a class in making bears, she recalls she "got so excited" and began making the plush toys out of old fur coats. The back end of the store became "the bear end," as it was the site her creations occupied.
After the departure of Mary's Shoppe from 114 South Main, Mackie decided to open up an entire shop specializing in bears and plush animals, and today's The Bear End was born.
The shop has carried numerous lines of quality bears and other stuffed animals, but both Ruth and son Don Mackie, who got involved seriously in the business in the mid-1990s, recall with a smile the days of the "Beanie Baby" craze in the 1990s, which Ruth says paid for the shop to put in awnings and receive a new paint job!
"We would get in shipments (of Beanie Babies) and put them in bags for people who were hooked and had requested them.," Don says. "People would follow the UPS truck here, and once someone got so angry he wanted to fight me in the street over (buying a) Beanie Baby!"
Ruth's hand-made bears were localized to include Culver attire, and were given the monikers "Susie Culver" and "Teddy Culver." Those, and all of the more than 600 bears she hand-made, were big sellers through the years, and often grew from customers' bringing in treasured items such as a deceased parent's fur coat, to have a bear made from the material. At least two local enthusiasts were buried with the bears Ruth Mackie personally made for them, and one customer told her the hand-made bears sat in the front pew at her daughter’s wedding.
"We called ourselves the 'largest little bear shop in Northern Indiana,'" she notes.
The opening of the bear store led to a door being created between the two buildings, which has remained there ever since.
On the antique side of the business, Don Mackie notes the Collectors has specialized in vintage wicker furniture and its repair, and featured a great deal of refinished, antique furniture over the years.
Don himself says he "got the bug" for antiques most specifically when helping with some of the antique shows his parents participated in (many of which took place in multiple states across the country). Seeing the sales available in the business, he quit a Union job in theater in Indianapolis to go into the antique business.
However, the economy and changing tastes have driven down the profit margin for antiques considerably, he explains, and he's been forced to take up a sideline business (which is featured at the Collectors): the sale of cowhide-covered furniture and accessories, which is currently quite popular around the country. He travels from Boston to Houston, Florida back to Culver, on a regular basis.
Those profit margins are also part of the reason for the impending demise of the Collectors and the Bear End as regular businesses in Culver.
Don and Ruth say they hope to sell most of the remaining bear inventory by the end of this summer (most of their stock is already 50 percent off), and that's also when they'll close the Collectors' doors, though Don stresses he plans to reopen the antique store around Christmas and during summertimes, when he can.
Starting next year, he says, he'd like to rent out the two storefronts, but until then, "We'll have a store here. I never want newspapers in the windows downtown, especially here."
At least at the former Bear End locale, that won't be a problem.
Don is hard at work redoing that building (and its hardwood floors) for the opening of Civvies, "a fun and fashionable little shop with hand-picked clothing, accessories and furnishings," says information given Mackie by new renters Julie Workman and Julie Brooks. The store is slated to open in July.
The thing I will miss most is the people," says Ruth Mackie of her upcoming retirement. "Some are very dear friends I will miss. There are wonderful people people here, but of course that's just Culver. I've had a lot of fun here."