Vendor booth

Antique furniture waits for shoppers at Vintage Antique Marketplace in the location of the former First Presbyterian Church in Columbia City. Shoppers come from Fort Wayne and Goshen and beyond to browse and enjoy coffee and sandwiches in the Church Cafe.

A quaint, old church in Whitley County is finding new life as a vintage marketplace that attracts shoppers from all over the tristate region.

Located at 202 N. Chauncey St. in downtown Columbia City, the Vintage Antique Marketplace (VAM) has supplanted the old First Presbyterian Church building, according to owner Lori Kreider.

The building features a rounded façade in front, exposed brick exteriors and interiors, and stunning stained glass windows left over from its days as a worship center.

The church had been shuttered for several years, and was sitting vacant, according to Kreider, who helped refurbish the old structure prior to opening.

She said she spent weeks getting the structure back in shape, including cleaning, painting, and just general restoration, working with her good friends Sharon Geiger and Ann Fahl.

Now back to its former glory, the 10,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store offers a mix of unique gathered items, found and new, additionally offering space for more than 50 small-business vendors to sell their wares, which include a range of offerings, from antiques and furniture to creative hand-made items.

“There is such a variety,” said Leona Sowinski, one of VAM’s vendors.

“Our customers can also enjoy visiting the Church Café,” said Tiffany Rohrer, Kreider’s daughter, who is taking over the shop’s operation. “Our guests can come in and grab a bite to eat while they’re browsing.

“In fact, a lot of people will do that: Just come in to shop, and while they’re browsing the market, get something to eat.”

The café, which seats 40 to 50 people, offers a range of items on its menu, from coffee drinks, to quiche, paninis and other types of sandwiches, and is located on the building’s lower level.

“We’ve had great reviews,” she said, “people love the food.”

Rohrer noted that the café helps make the marketplace a destination for local tourists.

“We have a unique destination,” Rohrer noted. “The building is unique because of its beauty, history and culture.

“And we’re attracting people locally and regionally. We get a lot of customers from all around Indiana, Michigan and Ohio,” she said. “People can come here and have lunch and shop; it gives people something to come see rather than just a normal brick and mortar shop. That’s what sets us apart: It provides the whole experience.”

One mall vendor agreed that the marketplace attracts customers from around the region to Whitley County.

“I’ve been there three years, since it opened,” said Leona Sowinski, a vendor who sells refurbished antique furniture. “It was the only antique place that was really close to me, since I live in Albion.

“But I’ve had great success there. We get people from all over shopping. I’ve had folks from Fort Wayne, Huntington, Elkhart and Goshen.”

Rohrer said her aim is to continue making the building a local tourist hotspot in Indiana and in the Midwest — an easy goal since VAM is conveniently located right in downtown Columbia City, just right off U.S. 30.

“We are a destination place that offers something for everyone,” Rohrer said. “It’s like a small getaway. We have the opportunity to create community every time a customer walks through outdoors. We provide the facility for family and friends to visit together, gather at and browse throughout. Since birds of a feather flock together, shoppers that love our store have something in common with others that feel the same. So creating community, not just in our local community, but within the community of our vendors and our customers is a huge opportunity for us to continue to expand on.”

Kreider noted that after all the work she put in to getting the church back to its original glory, the marketplace has become such a source of pride.

“We are proud to be locally owned and operated. Since we have opened the doors, we have had the opportunity of meeting some of the sweetest customers near and far, and have the best group of vendors.”

The market is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is closed Mondays.

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