Square's first antique shop was Hollis McClanahan's dream come true
For the late Hollis McClanahan, Downtown Antiques was more than a cavernous curiosity shop where he dealt in vintage American items. The enterprise reflected his lifestyle.
McClanahan worked at the Lebanon Post Office from 1965 into the 1980s, most of that time standing at the front counter where he presented a friendly, familiar face to townsfolk.
In 1982, he opened the first antique store on the square and remained ensconced there almost until the day he died, Nov. 29, 2016, at 75 years of age.
His shop on the northeast quadrant proved to be an anchor across four decades and a haven for those who doted on furniture, clocks, glassware and other collectibles from yesteryear.
After 33 years of operation, the business was forced to close after part of the drywall ceiling collapsed in early January. After nearly three months of being shuttered, McClanahan's widow, Marlane, has repaired the ceiling, and the shop is now open Thursdays through Saturdays.
"This was his vision and his life and where he was most comfortable. He would not have wanted it to be closed," said Marlane. "This business is Hollis. It's not me. It's all about him. I will have to make it mine at some point, but that's a long time before it will happen."
The structure, which housed Baird & Cooksey Brothers Hardware for most of the mid-20th century, overflows with a wide array of antiques and collectibles that reflect McClanahan's tastes. Lookers who enter will find themselves surrounded by furniture, lamps, clocks, paintings, whiskey jugs, cash registers, baby buggies and more as they walk across a squeaky wooden floor.
"Hollis was an antique dealer all of his life. He bought, sold and collected. He went to estate auctions in the early years," recalled Marlane. "Later people would come to him [to sell] because they knew he would buy items. He liked rare and unusual. He liked Tennessee. He liked to deal in Southern antiques if he could, but he liked American antiques.
"He loved people. He could talk to a homeless person or talk to the most educated who came through the door. He talked to the poor and wealthy, didn't make any difference. That's one reason he was so successful."
She noted that he had a wonderful sense of humor and often bragged about graduating from the same university as Theodore Roosevelt. He would follow the boast by showing visitors his certificate from the Northwestern School of Taxidermy proving that he had completed a correspondence course in 1959.
Hollis was an voracious reader according to Marlane and had an "almost photographic memory" when it came to history and antiques.
Over the decades, he compiled multiple collections of items ranging from Indian artifacts and Civil War memorabilia to walking canes and pitchers. Most of these have been sold, but his pitcher collection and framed arrowhead displays stretch high across a wall of the shop.
Bill Green, who owns Coach House Antiques on the square, was a close friend of McClanahan, and the two shared a passion for arrowheads and clocks.
"We both liked ancient artifacts, like arrowheads. Because of that we fell in, and then we sort of formed an agreement to learn something new every day, and we did that for many years. We studied anything and everything. He liked to have fun, liked to laugh. I kept him laughing," Green said.
"There were 13 antique shops on the square in the late '80s and early '90. Lebanon was known as 'the antiques capital of the South.' Between Hollis's, Cuz's [Antiques] and my place, it drew a lot of people downtown," he said.
Marlane, a native of Huntsville, Ala., crossed paths with Hollis, who grew up in Grant in Smith County, at the post office.
"I worked for [accountant] Maurice Maggart. I used the postage machine and picked up the mail. At that time he was working at the window. He was shy. He came outside and met me on the sidewalk and kind of asked me out. We were married for 36 years and have been here 33 years, pretty much all of our married years in this business," she shared.
Hollis bought the two-and-a-half-story-tall brick building from Ed Baird in 1983 and opened his antique store, originally called Downtown Antiques Mall, that October.
"We were the first antique shop on the square," she said. "Cuz's opened about a year later. Originally, we had [dealer] booths on the third floor so it was a mall for a time. Both of his daughters [Holly Spillman and Dora Martin] worked here at times with their dad."
Among some of the most valuable items for sale here are a Wooten desk, circa 1880 ($15,000); a full tester bed, circa 1830, made in Kentucky that stands 8-feet-3-inches tall and is accompanied by a rare trundle bed ($6,500); and a 1917 Steinway piano ($15,000).
One of Hollis's final purchases was his tombstone. He wrote his own epitaph: Never give up.
"Because he didn't. His life kind of said that," said Marlane of her mate, a 17-year heart transplant survivor who battled numerous illnesses.
"I left the store open until the last week he was in the hospital. He was out for about a week until he passed. He had multiple cancers. He overcame five or six rounds with cancer before the last one took him."
Trying to fill his shoes as an antique dealer may be a challenge, especially when it comes to finding more vintage items, but Marlane figures she had a master teacher.
"I'll pick and choose more than he did. I'll be a little more selective," she said. "I learned everything I know about antiques, of course, from him. After 36 years, you're gonna learn a lot if you listen and watch."
Antique shops on the Lebanon Square
- Downtown Antiques sits at 112 Public Square and is open 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Phone: (615) 444-4966.
- The Butter Churn, owned by Johnny Brewington, occupies 108 and 109 Public Square and is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Painted furniture, repurposed items, shabby chique, collectibles and unique antiques may be found here.
- Screen Door Antiques, owned by Darlene Alvis, is at 104 Public Square and open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Alvis describes it as "a ladies shop" with beautiful glassware, jewelry, linens, small furniture and other items.
- Coach House Antiques, owned by Bill Green, at 103 Public Square is open most Saturday and features fine antiques.