One wild ride – Ferris Wheel Antiques in Topeka celebrates 20 years
By Corbin Crable
Move over, Beanie Babies. Hit the road, Hot Wheels. You won’t find either at Ferris Wheel Antiques, a place that owner Michelle Ferris calls one of the only “true antique stores in Topeka.”
It’s a strategy that has worked well for Ferris and her husband Ronnie, who are celebrating their 20th year of operating Ferris Wheel in 2023. The Topeka store, which was built from scratch in 2003, wasn’t exactly some-thing the couple planned, Ferris says. Like so many wonderful life events, “it just happened.”
“It wasn’t something we planned on,” Ferris explains, adding that Ronnie is a buyer and seller of petroliana. “When his buyers didn’t buy as much, we decided we had enough to open a store… We just jumped in with both feet to see what would happen, and it worked.”
The couple decided they wanted to deal exclusively in antiques, opting to stay away from the junk one might find in other stores.
Also joining Ferris and Ronnie as fixtures in the store were their young daughters, ages 5 and 1.
“Somehow I ran a store with a 1-year-old. I don’t know how,” Ferris says, laughing. “Our girls basically grew up in the store, and our clients have seen them. Our girls would drive wagons and pedal cars around the store. It was like Romper Room.”
As their girls grew, so did the store’s physical space (Ferris Wheel began with just one building with 3,200 square feet of space and later would expand to its square footage of more than 6,000). Word-of-mouth promotion of the antique store in town that had lots of petrol-related collectibles spread as well. Visitors would discover a steady inventory of prim-itives, early Americana, and antique books, too.
Ferris says you won’t find any items more recent than the 1960s throughout the store’s shelves.
Over the past two decades, Ferris says she and Ronnie have amassed a following of customers who have become like family. And since they don’t have any hired staff to speak of – the Ferrises are at the cash register six days each week – they’ll be the ones you meet when you come in.
“We’re the fun place to shop,” Ferris says, “and we are the faces of the store. We could not have done any of that without customers, friends, and colleagues. We try to make our store feel like home. These customers we have are extended family. We’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime. My customers know that.”
Those customers, Ferris says, likely would describe her store using the three words “family,” “friends” and “fun,” while Ronnie adds that he believes they would use the words “traditional,” “quality” and “unique.”
Throughout the years, trends in buying antiques have come and gone, and Ferris says one of the biggest keys to her store’s success is that she always tries to follow them closely.
“We’ve seen cycles go up and down, trends come and go,” she notes, adding that younger buyers are increas-ingly repurposing antiques. “The younger generation now isn’t really into investing a lot of money in antiques, but the ones who come in now may have creative ways to use antiques and repurpose them, much more so now than 20 years ago.”
There is such a variety of merchandise to hunt through. The Coca-Cola sign on the back wall was the first thing to be displayed in the store and has been a fixture there for 20 years.
Surrounded by some of the widely varied merchandise at the store are proprietors Michelle and Ronnie Ferris. (All images courtesy of Michelle Ferris)
The advent of social media in Ferris Wheel’s early years has helped the business grow immensely, too.
“When we first started, social media was not a thing. Our advertising was a lot differ-ent then than it is now,” Ferris observes. “Pinterest is a big one; you have women coming in and looking for the same thing (due to a trend) on Pinterest that you have might have missed. There’s nothing bad about that; anything to pique some-body’s interest. I appreciate all of that.”
Though she says she has no plans to retire yet, Ferris says she doesn’t know how much longer she and Ronnie will be the faces of the store. That’s OK, though; she’s already training the next generation of antique sellers, she says – her infant grandson spends plenty of time at the shop, greeting customers who become adoring fans.
Ferris says she welcomes all to Ferris Wheel Antiques and hunt for that special treasure.
“We love what we do,” she says, “and I’d love for new customers to come in and find out what we’re all about.”
For more information, call Ferris Wheel Antiques at 785-862-8850 or visit their Facebook page or website: ferriswheelantiques.com.