Most Southerners are all too familiar with the vast kudzu vine. Typically a gardener’s nightmare and dubbed “the vine that ate the South,” kudzu grows at rapid speeds and is found just about everywhere. But off of East Ponce de Leon in Decatur there is a very different kind of kudzu: Kudzu Antique Market. Like its spreading namesake, the store certainly sprawls. Brimming with everything from garden accessories and antique furniture to books, records, soda pop and pretty much anything else you can dream up, Kudzu is an Atlanta mainstay with a ton of character and a whole lot of charm. In fact, if there’s ever been a place in Atlanta that can be dubbed a one-stop shop, it’s Kudzu.
Owned and operated by husband-wife duo Kate and George Lawes, Kudzu has been in business since 1979. The pair took over the shop after Kate’s mother passed away in 2001 and they haven’t looked back. “Although Kate had helped her mother for years in the shop, we both had different careers,” George explains. “I was a TV producer, and Kate was in sales. We decided to switch careers and took over the business.”
While on the surface, George and Kate might seem ill-prepared for the world of Kudzu, the couple actually has retail in their blood. George’s mother’s family ran a large general store in Alabama from the late 1800s until the 1960s, and he got his first job there sweeping floors at the ripe old age of 7. Kate, of course, spent hours in her mother’s shop, and both took on Kudzu as a side project in their spare time. George was working at CNN at the time of the transition, and Kate was growing more and more tired of the uncertainty of outside sales. “[We] decided that owning our own business with the opportunity to grow it was a more exciting prospect,” George says.
And grow it they did. Kudzu Antique Market sprawls in two directions in its 25,000-square-foot Decatur location. The store incorporates an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories and furniture, hosts a lamp restoration company, welcomes a variety of dealers, includes a custom furniture line from Rowe and showcases the many treasures George and Kate purchase from their European buying trips.
Traveling to Europe three to four times each year, the couple brings back containers filled with unique finds. George describes their trips as a process. “We search high and low,” he says. “Because of the volume we sell and the changing marketplace, we are constantly searching for new sources and new ideas to complement our more traditional antiques and vintage.”
Kudzu Antique Market is more of an eclectic showroom than a traditional antique mall. George says, “We’ve come to think of ourselves as ‘curators,’ consciously selecting items to create an overall mix that will delight as many people as possible … crawling through old barns and warehouses and huge antique fairs to load 40-foot containers with all kinds of finds, importing containers direct from Asia, buying truckloads direct from U.S. companies, attending large furniture and accessories trade shows, bringing truckloads down from Pennsylvania’s Amish country, contracting with local craftsmen to create products, going to auctions, buying from estates and sometimes simply buying from the trunk of some nice person’s car in the parking lot.”
This curated point of view creates a one-of-a-kind shopping experience that is truly unlike any other. “We see Kudzu, in a way, as our artistic palette,” George passionately describes, “an ever-changing challenge to our creative drives. This is why so many of our customers are loyal and repeat … because each time they come in, Kudzu is different!” This unique experience is certainly part of what keeps customers returning again and again. And now with a sister site, Kudzu and Company in Sandy Springs, the Lawes’ reach is going even farther, allowing them to accommodate more eager shoppers than before.
As you can imagine, George and Kate have endless ideas for the future of Kudzu. In fact, Kudzu and Company’s design-centric success in Sandy Springs has encouraged the owners to introduce Kudzu Modern, an entirely new aspect for the Decatur store. Kudzu Modern, a curated, stylish wing of Kudzu Antiques, showcases furniture and housewares. Dubbed “a store within a store” by George, he says Kudzu Modern adds “a contemporary mix of carefully selected new furnishings, lighting and accessories.” George further describes the latest endeavor as a perfect marriage, and one that “reflects how most people furnish and decorate their homes: something old, something new and something just plain fun.”
Of course, the gratification of adding new aspects to the shop regularly and winning several Best of Atlanta awards are just a few things that the owners are proud of, but George says that, ultimately, it’s something more. “Most gratifying for us has been our ability to provide good jobs for some great people and to hear again and again from customers old and new, ‘I love this place!'”
And customers really do love Kudzu. Maybe it’s the welcoming and cheerful staff available to assist at any given moment. Maybe it’s the occasional live music or special events the store hosts, or the food trucks that visit. Maybe it’s the refrigerator full of vintage soda beckoning eager taste buds. Maybe it’s the store’s support of local nonprofits, such as the Humane Society, Lifeline Animal Project and Camp Sunshine. Or maybe it’s all of the above.
When asked what he wanted future clients to know about Kudzu, George replied simply, “We care.” He continues, “We will do our best to treat you right. And we hope that you will find something that you can bring into your home so that when someone asks, ‘Where’d you get that!?’ You’ll say with a smile, ‘Kudzu!'”
Kudzu Antique Market is located at 2928 E. Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur, GA 30030. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily. Call (404) 373-6498 or visit kudzuantiques.com to learn more. And tell them StyleBlueprint sent you!