New owner working to revive Antique Mall
The interior of downtown Ellsworth’s former Antique Mall is dark most days. Gone are the main floor glass showcases where visitors could search for jewelry and other treasures. Nearby office and retail employees go elsewhere now for their coffee and chai tea.
In the historic underground that served the Antique Mall and several other buildings on the west side of Douglas Avenue, Pretty Boy Floyd’s Steak & Shine closed in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and never reopened.
But soon — if the building’s new owner Robert Czyszczon has his way — the former Antique Mall, restaurant and gathering place will take on new life and add to Ellsworth County’s list of attractions.
“Our goal is to bring more tourism to Ellsworth,” Czyszczon said in a telephone interview with the Independent-Reporter.
Czyszczon has the resume to make it happen.
His family has been part of the hospitality industry since he was 10 years old. In 2000, Czyszczon, who now serves as CEO/president and general manager of Plaza Beach Resorts, expanded the business to include three boutique resorts in St. Petersburg, Fla.
His interest in Ellsworth County came two years ago when he purchased an Atlas missile silo north of Kansas Highway 140 near Carneiro. A few months later, he approached Ellsworth real estate agent Anita Hoffhines about bringing more tourists to the county. His purchase of the Antique Mall was the result of that conversation.
Czyszczon said Pretty Boy Floyd’s, which attracted customers from across Kansas and beyond before it closed, could be open in a couple of months. The main challenge is to find an experienced restaurateur. He doesn’t want to reopen the restaurant just to have it open.
As for the rest, Czyszczon expects the days of operation to remain the same — Thursday through Saturday, with perhaps the addition of a Sunday brunch. He has not yet settled on a menu, although Czyszczon likes the steakhouse concept.
“I think there’s a lot of potential down there,” he said.
The main floor design calls for a blend of office space on the south side and a small restaurant with daily hours on the north side.
The top floor, which at one time was a gathering place for local Masonic Lodge No. 146, will be converted into an events venue for groups of 100 or fewer.
A timeline calls for work to be done by the end of 2023. Included will be the addition of a small elevator to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs and others unable to climb the stairs leading to the underground restaurant and other floors.
Czyszczon said he developed his plan after talking to Hoffhines and Stacie Schmidt, executive director of Ellsworth County Economic Development, about the community’s needs. Both have helped him move forward with his vision for tourism.
His purpose is not to duplicate, but to “improve and enhance” downtown Ellsworth, he said.
At the same time, as part of the effort, Czyszczon is working to turn the Carneiro missile silo where he stays when he visits Ellsworth County, into a three-bedroom, three-bath Airbnb.
He said the silo, which he describes as “livable” at this time, will eventually have state-of-the-art extras, including television screens to reflect the outdoors, even though the living quarters are more than 200 feet underground.
Czyszczon said Ellsworth County is the only county in Kansas with two missile silos. The other one, between Ellsworth and Wilson, is owned by Matthew and Leigh Ann Fulkerson, who purchased the 20-acre property in 2013.
The couple has operated the site as a campground and to educate visitors about the 1960s-era Strategic Air Command launch center that once housed an Atlas F intercontinental ballistic missile armed with a 4-megaton nuclear warhead. The United States government commissioned a total of 72 sites as part of the nation’s Cold War effort against the Soviet Union.
Czyszczon said he started thinking about uses for the abandoned missile sites more than a decade ago, but financing was not available to support purchase and repurposing, so he moved the idea to the back burner. He didn’t think about it again until a friend reminded him just as COVID-19 spread across the country.
While others stayed close to their homes, Czyszczon and his family started a road trip across the United States during the summer of 2020. The trip brought them through Kansas, where Czyszczon’s missile silo idea became reality.
There is still much work to be done, especially at the former Antique Mall. The underground restaurant, he said, was “pretty much turnkey” when he purchased the property.
However, an old roof had allowed water to pour into the building, badly damaging the north wall and floors on all three levels.
Earlier this year, with assistance from Schmidt and ECED, Czyszczon received a Historic Economic Asset Lifeline grant of $65,000 to help replace the roof. The work is done and the building has been stabilized going into winter, as Czyszczon continues to look for contractors.
New windows to replace the ones that look out on Douglas Avenue are set to arrive soon, and someone is needed to install them. Czyszczon said finding employees has been such a challenge, hiring workers from Florida has become more efficient.
He said construction is on pause until April or May, when he hopes the sound of hammers will once again fill the building.