EDINBURGH, Ind. — He’s not big on talking to the media, but if you want to see Indiana congressional candidate Greg Pence, the brother of the vice president, the Exit 76 Antique Mall here may be a good place to look.
Along with another smaller antique mall in nearby Bloomington, this 72,000-square-foot mall is Pence’s largest asset. The warehouse-like building carries everything from a $10 U.S. Capitol porcelain plate to an $800 barbecue bull that lets smoke out of its nose, with plenty of Elvis figurines, costume jewelry, knives and grandfather clocks stuffed in between.
Pence is cruising to victory in Indiana’s open 6th District seat, the same one his brother held for 12 years before being elected governor in 2012. He doesn’t mention his more famous brother in his campaign ads; he doesn’t have to.
Pence is running on a national name — that has been rehabilitated by the former governor’s departure from the state. And yet Pence does not give interviews to the national press.
One scene in a recent minute-long campaign video was shot in the mall; it’s a nod to the small businessman and job creator bona fides he touts in fundraising emails. Employees said Pence stops in three or four times a week when he’s in town.
But on a crisp, sunny Friday — one of those Indiana spring days that gave way to snow and rain showers three hours later — Pence wasn’t seen at the antique mall. Store manager Joyce Bishop said the campaign had told her to expect this reporter.
The only signs of Pence were framed newspaper clippings about him and his wife, Denise, purchasing the store in 2006 that hung in the concession area and one red-and-yellow Greg Pence lawn sign tucked into the corner of a conference room.
The value of the two antique malls, organized as Pence Group LLC, is somewhere between $5 million and $25 million, according to Pence’s financial disclosure form, filed with the Clerk of the House in January. (Lawmakers and candidates are required to report the value of their assets only in broad ranges.) The Exit 76 mall has 15 employees, while the smaller one in Bloomington has 12.
Pence raised $424,000 in the first quarter of this year and is benefiting from outside spending from groups allied with the Trump administration, such as 45Committee and Great America PAC. That’s frustrated some Republican consultants whose clients need the help more.
“No one on the planet is more assured to win this year,” one Republican said. “Here’s the one guy who doesn’t need money.”
Republican primary opponent Jonathan Lamb has loaned his campaign $800,000 since launching his candidacy, but raised just $9,000 during the first quarter. His biggest expense so far has been media consulting for ads in which he pokes fun at his last name and cracks an egg into a frying pan.
If Pence wins the nomination on May 8, he’s almost certainly going to be the next representative from this district, which backed President Donald Trump by 40 points in 2016. Incumbent Rep. Luke Messer is running for the GOP Senate nod, and is a close ally of Pence, who served as Messer’s finance chairman before launching his own campaign.
Watch: A Loyalty Contest for Trump in Indiana: GOP Senate Primary in Full Swing
Pence and his wife held a rally outside the Exit 76 Antique Mall for his brother and Trump a week before the 2016 presidential election, but his employees said he doesn’t do politicking in the store.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, he’s not going to be involved,’” Bishop said when asked if Pence’s new pastime as a candidate takes him away from the mall. “He knows exactly what’s going on here,” she said, adding that she’s in communication with him every day.
Bishop said there are “rumors flying,” but neither mall is for sale.
The business model
Pence makes his money from renting booths, of which there are about 600 at the Edinburgh store. Booths start at $189 a month.
The antique mall takes a commission of each sale, but all merchandise belongs to the vendors until it’s sold. A wooden table made from barn siding was a recent big sale. A brewery bought it for $9,000.
Spring and summer are the busy months, especially when snowbird retirees return to stock their booths. A nearby outlet mall, roughly 40 miles south of Indianapolis, helps draw shoppers from Interstate 65.
“They’re mostly stale enterprises with not much life,” said one vendor of the antique mall model. “For some reason, they’re usually poorly lit — but that’s kind of our fault. They have electricity for us.”
“To the dealers, it’s a great model,” said another vendor named Susan, who was restocking her booth. “They collect sales tax for me, they do all the insurance, they do all the utilities, they deal with customers … I don’t have to worry about anything except bringing new merchandise.”
Vendors can’t sell underwear. And the general lack of campaign memorabilia was surprising. But there’s little the mall won’t carry.
One vendor lives in the Netherlands and ships goods from overseas, coming in four times a year. Some elderly people rent booths for a few months to get rid of household possessions.
“Red vests” are appropriately named floor staff who will unlock glass cases for customers at the ring of a bell. Wooden benches, labeled “rest areas,” allow customers to take mid-aisle pit stops.
“We try to encourage our customers that come in, say, ‘Hey, just have a good time. You want to carry a drink around? You can drink Cokes,’” Bishop said.
“And I hope you noticed, we’re really clean. That is one of Gregory’s pet peeves,” she added.
The eldest Pence
The oldest of six siblings, Pence served four years in the Marine Corps, experience that’s featured prominently in his ads. This is his first run for office, but he was often at his brother’s side during his campaigns — so much so that he’d sometimes be mistaken for the vice president.
Pence had previously worked for Marathon Oil and Unocal Corporation, then became vice president of Kiel Brothers Oil Company, the family’s gas station and convenience store business. In 2004, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Greg resigned.
Longtime employees said the antique mall hasn’t changed much since the Pences took over in 2006, except that they’ve increased newspaper and television advertising.
Bishop didn’t think Pence was an antique connoisseur before he bought the store. But one item on the floor recently caught his eye.
He was so struck by a model ship, “Le Soleil Royal” from 1669, that Bishop hinted to Denise Pence that she should buy it for her husband. It’s selling for $995.
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