Hidden Treasures was founded in 1989 in Rogers, Arkansas, with a mother’s dream of starting a bookstore and her son’s passion for reading comics.
“We didn’t have hardly any inventory, but that’s how it started,” Judy McNulty said.
And their efforts continued to grow. So much so that they had to find a bigger location.
“He went off to college, so I ended up with a store,” she said. “Mom all of a sudden had a comic book store and a gaming store.”
Judy McNulty, 68, runs Hidden Treasures. Her husband Gary McNulty, 69, started helping her after he retired.
“It’s just a mom and pop shop,” Gary McNulty said.
The McNultys left Arkansas in 2003 to “scale down and semi-retire” in Alexandria. They knew they wanted to move to Minnesota but didn't have anywhere specific in mind. The McNultys looked at Fergus Falls, Minneapolis and St. Cloud before visiting Alexandria. They chose Alexandria because of its downtown area, tourist draw and renting availability.
After running Hidden Treasures in Minnesota for 17 years, the structure and most of the merchandise burned down in February.
From the ground up
The fire forced the McNultys to relocate again, though this was nothing new for them. The Viking Plaza Mall offered a free year of rent to those who had lost businesses in the fire.
Hidden Treasures officially reopened June 1. The store is now located next to D. Michael B's Resort Bar & Grill in the mall.
“We were really glad we got a spot,” Judy McNulty said. “It was really nice of the mall.”
After the fire, the McNultys’ insurance company gave them a few weeks to salvage the most valuable items and sift through the basement storage area. They kept returning to the site to pull more things out, bring them home and sort what was left. Everything was washed, sanitized or thrown away.
Once they decided what items would be kept, they moved the merchandise to their new location. The McNultys were given old displays from JCPenney and Herberger’s to use.
In addition to the physical structure, they used to have an eBay store of over 1,000 items, but the McNultys had to shut their page down because they weren’t able to recover most of those products.
“It did give us time to set up again,” Gary McNulty said. “We just had to start from scratch.”
People tried to tell the McNultys to kick back, get a hobby and enjoy retirement after they lost the store in the fire. Judy McNulty didn’t agree with these ideas, saying that their hobby was to buy and sell.
“Just sitting there day in and day out with nothing to do,” Judy McNulty said. “We didn’t want to retire or anything, we were just kind of forced into it because we lost our business.”
A little bit of everything
When they first started their business in Arkansas, the original Walmart was the main source of competition for the McNultys.
“Walmart, of course, would try to cut your business by doing the same thing you did,” Gary McNulty said. “At one time, they even started selling comics, but they just threw them out on a shelf. People who collect comics want them in mint condition, so that didn’t work.”
Hidden Treasures sells everything from collectible toys to antiques. The store’s focus is on “New Age” items, such as stones, incense, sage and tarot cards.
“We’re kind of unique,” Judy McNulty said. “We have stuff that stores in Alexandria don’t have. You can’t find it at Walmart.”
Some Star Trek, Barbie and Garfield toys remained intact after the fire, and a local collector donated some Star Wars items, too.
“A lot of it got ruined, but as time goes on, we’ll be out to the shows and try to replace a lot of that,” she said.
Regular customers who came for specific products returned for the reopening, and the McNultys also noticed new customers who were drawn in by their Facebook page.
“They had no place to get their stuff either, so it was kind of nice to see people still wanted us,” Gary McNulty said.
When they were located in Arkansas, the McNultys would have regulars drive from other states to their store. Now, they have customers from North Dakota, South Dakota and the Twin Cities. Judy McNulty estimates between 30 and 40 regulars, including those who live out of town.
“The store’s pretty diverse,” she said. “We have something for pretty much everyone at every age.”