Most people who have walked past the dilapidated “Heart of Hazel” Antique Mall in the last few years would likely say the facility could use resuscitating.
Thankfully for Hazel residents and business owners, there’s a new man in town to do the job.
Originally built in the early 1900s as the Hazel Lumber Company, the old building at 317 Main St. now looks more like its original namesake than a picker’s paradise.
Stacked to the ceiling, and in some places being propped up, with new lumber, Miami, Fla. businessman and antique lover Jim Cunningham is gutting the facility from top to bottom, financing and overseeing an entire renovation of the property in hopes of bringing antique vendors back to the area.
Cunningham is not changing the facility’s original structuring, instead opting to return the property to its original roots.
“We’re trying to make it basically what it used to be – the old Hazel Lumber Company,” he said.
For Cunningham, just finding Hazel is a story all on its own.
With plans for he and his wife to retire from a trucking business he operates in three to four years, Cunningham bought up some cheap land in Big Sandy, Tenn.
Searching out antiques in-and-around the area, Cunningham met up with Tony Orr, an avid antiquer himself who had vested interest of Memory Lane in Hazel.
After buying up Memory Lane and hiring Orr to run it, Cunningham said he got the itch to expand and looked across the street at where dealers from Charlie’s and the Heart of Hazel Antique Mall were displaced . After the closing, those dealers moved to places like Union City, Tenn., Paris, Tenn., Mackenzie, Tenn., and Murray.
Falling in love with the Hazel Lumber Company location, Cunningham initially wanted to piece together a quick turnaround, in which minimal repairs would get the facility up and running as soon as possible.
It didn’t take long for the project to become more long-term; the more problems Cunningham and his hired crews found, the more he wanted to “do the job right.”
Cunningham said a quick tour of the facility yielded many faults in the historic site – old wiring not equipped to standard, layers upon layers of old roofing shingles weighing down the joist supports and walls, dry-rotted roof supports and boarded up ventilation windows along the upstairs loft.
“Honestly, I’m not really sure how it has been standing all this time,” Cunningham said.
The plans for the undertaking can at first sound overwhelming, with Cunningham saying he wants 50 or so dealers moved in by Christmas, with the possibility of 20 to 30 more by next year if everything runs smoothly. He said he has plans for refinished floors, stained-wood walls and the installation of fire exits. Currently the roof is being refitted with new plywood subroofing and 26-gauge white tin. Tinted windows have been installed along the top and new supports grafted to the original structures to provide needed reinforcement.
“By turning an old museum into a museum/antique mall, people have an excuse to be here,” Cunningham said. “There are so many people nostalgic about this building.”
Hazel Mayor Kerry Vasseur said visitors in the fall should expect to see “really good stuff” on sale, with Cunningham hoping to bring in more traditional antique dealers able to accommodate both male and female shoppers, an element Vasseur said has been missing in Hazel for awhile.
“What he’s doing is going to be a boon to the area, bringing more foot traffic for all of the stores from here to the state line,” Vasseur said. “It’s going to be really nice.”