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Sugar Magnolia Still Blooming

Sugar MagnoliaSugar Magnolia in Oxford is one big happy family
By Ellen Graves, senior journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
Each antique has a story behind it, and inside the Sugar Magnolia Antique Mall, there are thousands of stories.
In 2007, Co-owner Molly Harwell turned her passion for antiques into a reality by opening tSugar Magnolia, which she runs with the help of her two sisters and mother, Farrah McAlexander, a co-owner of the business.
“My whole life, I’ve grown up around antiques and history and that kind of thing. So, that’s really our roots. We just have a passion for it,” Harwell says. “The people. Their stories. Even the furniture. The objects have stories, and I really think that all goes back to how we were raised.”
The passion was instilled in Harwell from an early age by her 86-year-old grandmother, a Holly Springs native, who is the curator of the Holly Springs Museum.
The Sugar Magnolia, named after one of Harwell’s favorite Grateful Dead songs, depends on its vendors to provide a wide variety of antiques, furniture, crafts and décor for its customers. Each vendor has his or her own booth inside othe store where the items can be organized and displayed however the vendor wants.
“A lot of customers that come in say it’s relaxing to just stroll the aisles and take your mind off of things, because you can go into each booth, and it’s like a different house,” Harwell says.
The Sugar Magnolia takes rent per square foot for each booth and a ten percent commission on the sale. Harwell appreciates the vendors as true artists and loves the eclectic items they bring in.
“We’ve been real fortunate and blessed with really talented people that bring a lot to the table,” Harwell says.
Vendor Anne Thompson makes her own jewelry for her booth and appreciates the opportunity to sell her products at the Sugar Magnolia.
“The girls that own the store and the management are always trying to improve the store,” Thompson says. “There’s something for everybody if you take the time to look.”
Harwell and her sisters had all been on different career paths before considering opening a business like the Sugar Magnolia.
“Our family is very important. It’s our number one thing,” Harwell says. “We were all born and raised here (Oxford) and all of us stayed here. So being in a business together made sense.”
Harwell sees the vendors and workers as family, too.
“They don’t work for us. They work with us,” Harwell says. “We all work together, and we all have the same passion for what we do.”
Each of Harwell’s sisters who work at the Sugar Magnolia has a particular job to do. Harwell admits that like any sisters, they have minor disagreements. When they need help solving a problem, Harwell turns to their mother for advice, calling her the “matriarch of the family.”
Manager Kate Coulehan is jokingly referred to by Harwell as their adopted sister from up North and acknowledges she would not be able to run the store without her. Coulehan believes the family atmosphere at the Sugar Magnolia has helped create a thriving business.
“It’s a nice place to come and work so I like it for that … and the way that everyone values one another even though retail is so unpredictable,” Coulehan says.
One of Harwell’s favorite parts of being owner is getting the opportunity to interact with all kinds of people.
“Every person that walks through that door is their own character in our novella because we could write a book … we come across so many different people, and that’s just the beauty of it,” Harwell says.
Harwell strives to provide customers a great experience at the Sugar Magnolia.
“We have so many great people that work here and nine times out of ten, you are going to leave here happy. I know that sounds cheesy and corny … but that’s really how I feel,” Harwell says.
Harwell attributes a large part of their success to the vendors and admits she has thought about opening a second store. However, the thought of having to leave home is not a thought she entertains for long.

Sugar Magnolia Co-owner Jane Steelman, left, and daughter Kailee Jane Steelman, at one of the many booths inside the Sugar Magnolia Antiques Mall
Sugar Magnolia Co-owner Jane Steelman, left, and daughter Kailee Jane Steelman, at one of the many booths inside the Sugar Magnolia Antique Mall

“We’ve toyed around with the idea. We would probably have to move to another city, another town, another location,” Harwell says. “But you know, Oxford is home.”
The college town atmosphere Oxford provides is ideal for a store like the Sugar Magnolia.
“Ball games have been a major success for us and of course the students. We couldn’t survive without the parents and the students,” Harwell says.
With the past five years being so successful, Harwell is excited about the Sugar Magnolia’s future. Once Harwell and her sisters decide to retire, she has an idea of who she wants to take over.
“I have a two-year-old daughter and all the cousins … it’s in their blood,” Harwell says. “The passion will have to be in one of them …or maybe all of them.”

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