Lois Swaney-Shipp was born in 1926 in Holly Springs, MS. Her love of antiques and history led her to a career as the curator of the Marshall County Historical Museum. She always had an antique shop in her home and opened her doors to visitors and buyers every day.
Swaney-Shipp’s passion laid the foundation for her family — daughter, Farrah McAlexander, and three granddaughters, Molly Harwell, Leah Christman, and Jane Steelman, to carry on her dreams. They shared her love of antiques and opened Sugar Magnolia Antique Mall on University Avenue in 2007. Steelman handles booth rentals, Christman keeps the books, Harwell handles daily operations and McAlexander keeps the peace.
“Mom (Farrah) is the matriarch of the whole operation,” said Harwell. The Sugar Magnolia team includes staff members Nancy Dodson, Brach Smith and Anne Thompson, who also makes jewelry available in the store.
Sugar Magnolia has tasty treats in two worlds: shopping and dining. Olivia’s Catering Company moved into the front of the store in April and offers sandwiches, tea, to-go casseroles, Sugaree’s Bakery cakes and cold salads. Hosting a luncheon is easy. With tables upstairs, customers can enjoy the perfect ladies’ day. Olivia’s also has napkins, plates and tailgating necessities to make for the perfect game-day experience.
With nearly 100 different vendors from New Orleans, Nashville, Jackson, Memphis, Oxford, Batesville, Pontotoc and even as far as Florida, Sugar Magnolia has something for everyone.
“They love to come up here. A lot of people have second homes in Oxford, and this is their hobby,” Harwell said. “We have a lot of vendors who are good friends. They come, spruce up their booths and go hang out. One vendor lives in Jackson and her best friend lives in Memphis, and their other best friend lives here. They were all sorority sisters at Ole Miss. It’s a lot a fun.”
Harwell has a hard time not taking everything home with her that comes in the door. “Our vendors know how to work their booths<” she said. “I walk the aisles every day and see things I didn’t see the day before. They all do a great job being in touch with what customers want to buy, and it changes season by season.”
What is the most popular time of year for Sugar Magnolia? The late summer months. “Students come in and it is like a mad house in August. July and August are our biggest months between students back-to-school shopping for furniture and people stocking their places for football season,” Harwell said.
As for the gentle lady who started it all, Lois Swaney-Shipp, she has her own booth on the far side of Sugar Magnolia. It is a mix of art, vintage clothing, handbags, fine furniture and décor.
Sugar Magnolia is open from 10:00-5:30, Monday–Saturday. For more information about Olivia’s, contact their main kitchen at 662-234-4443.
–Emily Gatlin, Editor-in-Chief, HottyToddy.com