Tableware from Tuscany: Directly Imported to Rural Kansas Town

Ever found yourself wandering through the home section of Anthropologie praying that one day you’ll be able to drop hundreds of dollars on a beautiful tableware collection? I do, as a college student I some dream about the day I will furnish my own home, kitchen, everything really. I began to think, if I am going to splurge on pricey china, why would I want something anyone can find.

De Soto, Kansas is a small town the absolute last place you would expect to find a beautiful shop in a town with one stoplight. A shop that focuses on the direct import of Italian artifacts and custom tableware from abroad. Not to mention this establishment has been receiving attention from media all over the country and welcomed one of my favorite authors, Frances Mayes, who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun to their store to showcase her new cookbook.

Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Florence Mary Lies is wandering the bustling streets of Italy looking for her next purchase. Mercato Antiques and Artifacts is a store that focuses on direct imports of Italian goods and custom tableware, a unique find in a small town in rural Kansas.

Lies and her husband have been traveling to Italy for pleasure since college when the two both took part in the University of Kansas’ study abroad program. Mary traveled with the language department and her husband with the Archetechture School. Both have an appreciation for Italian culture in 2003 they decided to start a business that focused on the direct import of antiques, artifacts and everything Italy.

“We were getting ready to plan another trip and decided ‘Hey, lets go over there and get some of these things’ there are a lot of people that sell antiques (English and French) but not any Italian that we were aware of” said store owner Mary Lies.

According to Lies finding Italian artifacts in the United States is a feat on its own. There is an abundance of English and French artifacts that can be found but especially in this area Italian decor was hard to come by. Coming from an Italian American family Lies had a passion for Italian culture that played an active role in the ambition to bring her interpretation of Italy to the U.S.

Mercato started in Overland Park, Kan. The Lies family and relatives were the first to purchase artifacts that Mary had brought back, the word spread by word of mouth to strangers. A local group of friends that were looking to remodel their homes in the European style stumbled upon Mercato.

“My husband and I couldn’t decide if we should visit Tuscany or build first. We didn’t want the head ache while we where decorating.” Said Mercato customer Marg Pateidl.

As their business started to take off the trips over to Italy started to become structured. The Lies would have artifacts and pieces in mind when making purchases on the streets. An idea came to mind when in a little ceramics town, the Lies family started to meet families that handcraft tableware. They began the process to designing their own collections. Mercato currently has three collections of custom tableware.

Each collection has been designed from elements in history, artwork and other Italian elements. The three available are Mercato is continuing to design for future collections.

“(The search) For the antiques, quite naively, it was just ‘What Italy felt like to me’ I loved the farm tables, the religious artifacts, the architectural salvage, the lighting; Things that made me feel (that) represented Italy.” Said Lies.

With a loyal group of customers Mercato has hosted several events for buyers to come and ‘meet and greet’ with authors and a few actors. Recently Frances Mayes, Author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Under the Tuscan Sun Cookbook” made an appearance to showcase her new cookbook. While she visited Mayes picked 8 recipes to cook with Mercato and their customers. Lies, Mercato owner, takes her relationships with her customers seriously.

“Since the beginning of time, I’ve done it in ten years and everyone is a repeat customer and they are all my friends now.” Said Lies.

Italian imports are not only rare but a unique thing to have access to in the Midwest. Business owners are focusing on the online portion of the store. The element of being in a small town has helped the Lies family keep inventory of large and pricey antiques.

When they travel the purchases are prepared by packers abroad and then go through a strict government checklist or customs before the crate can be shipped to the United States. In a big city Mercato would need to refocus how quickly they could be hand-selecting pieces for the store.

“What I loved, I went over and picked it out ‘oh, I love this’ It was my interpretation of Italy.”  Said Lies.

However the tableware is made in quantity and the owners allocate the inventory for online sales and in store sales. The timeline for ordering more tableware in the event of mass purchase is shorter than planning to visit and ship back an entire selection of antiques.

Customers that are familiar with imported antiques understand the asset it is to have an authentic business focusing on the antiques and goods rather than selling for high profit.

“Between the quality of her things (antiques) and price I could only think, ‘  What a gold mine’ everything she has is authentically Italy.” Said Pateidl.

Mercato is a hidden treasure buried right off a rural Kansas interstate. It is such an uncommon thing to find in a town with one stoplight. Customers from Kansas City are willing to make the drive and even ask for estimated times of new shipment arrivals.

“I think that it is a really unique thing. Not many people focus specifically on one country, Italy, and the importance is that we are a direct importer; we go over and hand select everything. You don’t find that often, especially in the Midwest, especially in a small town in Kansas.” Said Lies.