Jennifer Coomes Higdon has always liked the marriage of old and new, so it was only fitting that in 2012, when Daviess County Public Schools announced they were auctioning West Louisville Elementary school, Higdon and her mother, Deborah Coomes purchased the 40,000 square-foot school to open a curiosity shop.
Filled with antiques, home decor, clothing and collectible items, including shabby chic and boutique jewelry, Preservation Station opened in December 2013 and is ranked No. 2 on TripAdvisor’s Things to Do in Owensboro.
Within a year, the main floor of the school was filled with vendors and, in 2015, a renter approached the owners about occupying a space on the lower level. By the end of 2015, the entire lower level was occupied with locally-owned shops.
Preservation Station has been a member of the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce since 2013 and employs about 30 people.
Higdon, an educator, and Coomes, a registered nurse, were never worried about the location of the market and, in fact, were excited about its draw to the community and beautiful scenery.
“This area of Daviess County, Kentucky is beautiful,” says Deborah Coomes. “It’s where I was born and raised and where, fortunately, I live now.”
Wanting to provide the best merchandise to their customers, Coomes and Higdon held vendor workshops, provided booth consultations and had parties to celebrate successes.
“We knew that if we were going to continue to pull shoppers in from all over the region and the country, we had to have great products at great prices and work very creatively to display the products in such a way to sell them,” Higdon said. “While there was much debate in the early days of operation amongst the vendors and the owners as to the type of products we would sell, we eventually came to the realization that it would be best for us to carry old and new products, so that we could offer something to every type of shopper who came into the building.
“We began with a focus on vintage, rustic and antique items, but quickly realized that those people would also buy boutique clothing and jewelry while they were here. So we started explaining how to go to market to buy new products to our vendors and took big groups of vendors to the big home and gift shows in Atlanta where they began investing in new products and studying how the designers were displaying their products,” Higdon said.
Since 2013, Preservation Station Market and Event Center has hosted over 70 Market Days, each with over 100 vendors, live music and food. Shop owners are not just locally based, Higdon said, naming Paducah, Evansville, Tell City, Newburgh, Leitchfield and Henderson and some of the places where they live.
In 2017, Higdon and Coomes added the Preservation Station family restaurant, a 100-seat restaurant that serves made-to-order food Tuesday through Saturday and a brunch buffet on Sunday. The southern-inspired menus are available on their Facebook page. Customers can enjoy the cosmetic renovations that combine barn-wood columns and shiplap walls with decorations that are similar to items sold in the market stores.
“Because we had so many new people coming into our building for the restaurant, our overall mall sales grew 30 percent in 2018,” Higdon said. “No longer were people leaving our building because they were hungry, but they were staying to sip on our wine and beer selection, eat food, and then shop some more.”
Higdon said that because visitors can sign a guest book, they can see that people from out of state visit as well, including Wisconsin, Florida, Nebraska and Oregon to name a few. Recently, European journalist Joe Zadeh visited Preservation Station while in Owensboro for Clash Magazine.
In 2016, Coomes left nursing to be with Preservation Station full time and in 2018, Higdon left teaching to work at Preservation Station full time.
“The business grew so large we had no choice but to quit our jobs if we wanted to keep it,” Higdon said. “It grew bigger than we ever imagined.”
Neither Coomes nor Higdon know how long their journey with Preservation Station will last. Coomes is looking forward to retirement and Higdon misses weekends with her three kids and husband.
“For now we are focused on the current year,” Higdon said. “The most important thing is that we said we would make it happen and we did make it happen.”
Higdon said that she most enjoys when people come in and say what a cool idea it is. She is still amazed that something that began with magazine clippings and a piece of paper became Preservation Station.
“Our company’s mission is creation through preservation,” Higdon said. “While our initial mission was to preserve a community landmark, that was only a starting point to create a marketplace, restaurant, event venue and ultimately a travel destination. We are continually working to make this rural location a place people want to visit from all over by training our staff and our vendors to provide the exemplary services and products people expect at our location.”
Upcoming Market Days are July 6 and 7, Sept. 7 and 8, Nov. 2 and 3 and Dec. 7 and 8.
The entire facility is full of over 50 shops that are open daily Tuesday, through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays serving brunch and more 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.