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Nell Hill’s Founder Returns With ‘This Little Secret’ Shop Micro shop offers old-fashioned, in-store experience

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Above image credit: Rebecca Wood and Mary Carol Garrity, owners of diebolt’s. (Joyce Smith | Startland News)
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4 minute read

Nell Hill’s founder Mary Carol Garrity’s last home furnishings store was 18,000 square feet. Her new one? A “petit bazaar” at just 400.

Garrity is teaming up with longtime friend, Rebecca Wood, on diebolt’s in Midtown’s Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings. The shop, which is scheduled for an April 19 soft opening, is expected to offer a “fun mix” of tabletop, linens and original art and antique prints.

The two describe themselves as “retail brats.”

Garrity was a tween when she started helping out in her family’s Atchison, Kansas, clothing store, trimming buttonholes and steaming clothes in a back room.

She was 25 and working in a Wichita home furnishings store when her father enticed her to return and help open a specialty food store, the Gourmet Corner. She soon had her own homegoods shop on the upper level, naming it Nell Hill’s after her maternal grandmother.

She kept expanding until she had three stores, drawing daytrippers from across the region. She was featured in such national publications as the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, and customers often scanned the store as they entered, looking for Garrity. 

“It was old-fashioned,” she said. “Growing up in a small town, that’s how you did business. You knew everybody, you shopped with your friends.” 

Shop owners would remember past purchases and say, “Hey, have you seen this? This goes with what you bought a couple of months ago,” she said. And if the owner wasn’t in, an employee would later tell them who came in and what they purchased.

In 2007, Garrity opened an 18,000-square-foot, two-story Nell Hill’s showroom in The Village at Briarcliff. But she didn’t have the personal connection to customers that she enjoyed in the smaller Atchison venues.

“I told my husband, ‘I can’t touch every single person that walks in,’” she said. 

She sold the business in late 2018 to Brandon and Katie Laughridge and signed a five-year non-compete agreement. 

“I was working seven days a week, so the first four years were heaven. I loved not having anything to do, no timeline,” she said. “Then this last year I got antsy.”

The new diebolt's retail space at Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings.
The new diebolt’s retail space at Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings. (Courtesy | diebolt’s)

Wood’s paternal grandfather, the late Milo H. Walz, operated large furniture stores in Jefferson City, Columbia and the Ozarks. Wood, along with her young cousins, saw them as big dollhouses where they could play within the living and dining room settings. She also would pour over wallpaper sample books and fabric swatches. 

Wood started working at her father’s camera store in sixth grade, waiting on customers while he developed rolls of film. In the eighth grade, she waited on customers and set up displays at her mother’s stationery shop. She worked at the Columbia furniture store while earning a degree in communications at the University of Missouri.

“When you are raised by people who have their own businesses you are not as scared of it. You know the ups and downs of it,” she said. “Customer service was really important. And it is really important to me to really take care of people who walk through the door.” 

Wood was pregnant with her third child when she started a home-based stationery business (personalized invitations, notepads and more), which she kept for a decade. She met Garrity while setting up booths for the Junior League of Kansas City’s Holiday Mart, and in 2013 she started helping Garrity with marketing, and on buying trips.  

Wood has a full-time job in IT marketing and aims to be a silent partner in diebolt’s, putting the emphasis on Garrity. 

“I see her as a decorator and designer. She sees herself as a retailer,” Wood said. “She opened a 700-pound pallet by herself last week.”

When Garrity wanted to put a matchstick blind up on the side porch of the shop, she borrowed a hammer and nails from one of the other Gillham House vendors and climbed up on a table to install it. Wood worries what Garrity’s husband will say about that. 

Garrity’s father, George Diebolt, had an Atchison clothing store in the 1950s called diebolt’s. The women not only are using the name, they’re repurposing the same logo and specialty font for their brand.

When the store opens in April, it will have a range of offerings, from $5 mini-charcuterie boards to $500 hand-painted lamps. Between those extremes are delicate antique cup and saucer sets with soft pink roses and gold trim; linen napkins with a blue embroidered hydrangea; a century-plus-old print of a rufous-eared warbler; etched glass cocktail pitchers; silver-plated serving platters as wall art; and tablecloths in Garrity’s favorite squares (but she will special order round ones and custom sizes if customers ask).

They’ve placed bamboo and canvas director’s chairs around an antique Duncan Phyfe dining room table, and silverware is stocked in celery vases — all to give customers an idea of how they can modernize their sentimental heirloom pieces. 

At Nell Hill’s, Garrity would order 144 pieces of a certain dinnerware pattern. Now the partners will order five. Not too deep, very curated, they said of their “test kitchen.”

“Nell Hill’s is large and fabulous and Katie (Laughridge) has done a great job with it. This is like a little blip,” Garrity said. 

Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings opened in early 2023 as a collective of six antique dealers, relocating from the West Bottoms. The 29,500-square-foot former Stine & McClure Chapel (circa 1928) is a two-story red brick building with stately six-column portico just east of Costco, at 3235 Gillham Plaza. It is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, fitting the different schedules and lifestyles of diebolt’s owners, as their other businesses have over the years. 

Exterior of Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings.
Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings at at 3235 Gillham Plaza. (Courtesy | Gillham House Antiques & Furnishings)

It will be an “in-store experience” at diebolt’s, they said, so they won’t have online sales. Advertising will be word-of-mouth and their only concession to social media will be one Instagram post a week, on Thursdays, at least for now.

“We just want to run it old-fashioned. We want it personal,” Garrity said. “We want it to be this little secret people get to discover.”

Flatland and Startland News contributor Joyce Smith covered local restaurants and retail for nearly 40 years with The Kansas City Star. Click here to follow her on X (formerly Twitter), here for Facebook, here for Instagram, and by following #joyceinkc on Threads. The story first appeared on Startland News, a member of the KC Media Collective.

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