Zachary antiques mall growing fast

Sometimes customers come into the 4 Sisters Antiques & Etc., mill around the front room for a few minutes examining old china and rustic furniture, then turn to leave.

That’s when co-owner Judy Persnic, 62, lets them know “there’s more in the back.”

Lots more — another 22,000 square feet of space to peruse.

Since the antiques mall opened in a former machine shop on Plank Road north of Zachary last year, it has exploded from the room in front to more than 60 dealers filling the cavernous warehouse.

“We have been making it up as we go, shooting from the hip,” said co-owner Mary Rovena, 73, smiling at their success. “If we could figure out what we were doing right, we’d keep doing it.”

Sisters Persnic and Rovena opened the mall in March 2013 with another set of sisters, Michelle Barton and Stephanie Bardeau. All veterans of the antiques mall business, the women knew one another through another, smaller antiques mall that Persnic and her husband, Allen, once ran a mile down Plank Road. A partner in the beginning, Bardeau works full time and is not active at the mall.

The Persnics ran the other antiques mall for 10 years until Allen Persnic, 59, retired in 2012 from the Baton Rouge Police Department. They planned to take it easy and travel. That lasted about a month.

The couple took one big trip and came home looking for something to do.

“Coming off 32 years with the police department and that adrenaline every day, what do you do?” Allen Persnic said.

All the owners are antiques junkies. They all collected for decades, driving to flea markets and junk stores across the country, before they ever sold an item.

“I’ve always been a junker,” Rovena said, “and I hated to throw things away.”

An industrial warehouse surrounded by chain link fence might not seem like the ideal spot for an antique hotspot.

When they leased the building, the handy Allen Persnic worked hard building dividing walls, wiring lights and cleaning the old machine shop.

“We scrubbed and washed floors for weeks,” he said.

With more than 60 dealers renting space in the mall, their wares are an eclectic mix that appeals to various kinds of shoppers.

Booths display rustic, farmhouse-style furniture, popular painted chairs and tables, old tools and worn advertising signs.

“All of their stuff is really quality,” said Essie Cockrell, a 65-year-old part-time school nurse who comes by regularly enough to know which vendors have updated their booths in the past week. “The antiques are really unique and the vendors bring great things.”

Plus, she said, the mall is a fun hangout.

“They always have food out,” she said. “They know my name.”

Near the front, by the counter, a plate of cookies usually waits next to a complimentary pot of coffee.

“We’re not a really stiff place,” Judy Persnic said. “People bring their puppies in, some have their own coffee cups.”

They don’t aim to deal in high-end, rare antiques, she said.

“You go in some places and you’re afraid to breathe,” she said.

The booth of Millie McVey, a 70-year-old part-time nurse from Central, is 150 square feet of authentic country pieces and Americana evocative of the early 20th century.

“This is fun,” McVey said while rearranging items in her booth. “This is like mental therapy.”

Her booth has paid for itself, she said. She never has to work at the antique mall. She just sets it up and the sisters at the front take care of collecting payments.

“This is my heart right here,” she said of her part-time work trading in antiques.

While business is good, the Persnics said nobody is getting rich off the antiques mall business. But, since they can’t quit their antiques habit, they might as well spend their time with kindred spirits.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” Judy Persnic said, “going out and finding things.”