It is hard to miss Annette’s Touch of Class while passing through New Waverly, Texas. After all, there is a ’57 Chevy sticking out of the wall, and old movie theater marquee over the front door, and vintage roadside signs all over the property. What I found, after digging through a wonderful collection of Americana of the past, was a story of a mother and daughter, Annette and Meg, a team who have dedicated their lives to a passion for salvaging and preserving the history of the country.
“I used to work for an oil company,” Annette says. “I could be retired now. I gave up a six-digit income to do this. I wasn’t sure what exactly would happen here. Meg and I started this business back when she was a teenager and we had that mother-daughter personality conflict. So, me and my daughter started when she was 15, and she couldn’t stand me and I couldn’t stand her. I don’t want to be on television or have a show. But, if I ever did go on a show, that’s what it would be for… To help mothers and daughters know how we started out with just junk jewelry on a table. A lot of mothers and daughters go through that phase, so I would let them know that it does come. It wasn’t easy, but I tried everything to create our relationship. She wasn’t into antiques, and didn’t want to do anything with me at the time. But we started out with a hand-painted leather company. We would go to every festival in the state of Texas. We would set up tables and sell jewelry. I would split the revenue with her and that would be her income. The rest would go back into the business. And I had my regular job. I would take Friday’s off for vacation and we would go. We did that for three years until I landed this leather business. We were at a flea market, doing a show, and I bought a pair of cowboy boots and wanted a cowgirl put on them. And the manufacturer contacted me and said they wanted to do a western line. I said, ‘That’s our background. I would love to.’ So, I met with them, and we started customizing and doing western graphics on these leather products. About two years into that, I decided to quit my job. I just took a leap of faith. Then, that turned into our t-shirt line. Now, our retail line is distributed across the states. So, our t-shirt line was our next thing because our leather manufacturer went out of business. They were an art institute, and they realized they could make more money working the field for eight hours a day instead of painting on leather. So, after we had marketed our leather products for four or five years, we moved into our t-shirt line. And by that time, it had already started blossoming.”
“Antiques have always been my passion,” she explains. “I started 12 years ago. After my daughter got married, I realized that she was going to have children, so we needed a destination and we could not just be traveling all the time. So, I bought our land here 9 years ago as our long-term plan. And I built this all from scratch. The doors came out of an old hotel in downtown Houston. It cost $20,000 to get them redone and up to code. Everything in here is old. All our stuff that is in here was scattered over our ten acres. Our UPS man used to say, ‘What are you going to do with all this stuff? It’s everywhere. My God. Always clutter around here.’ When we opened, he came in and he almost cried. He was like, ‘I had no idea!’ It’s just a vision. You can’t tell anybody your vision. They have to see it.”
“My husband knows a guy named Ben, and he was the guy who was my pickup-man,” Annette explains of her start in collecting large motel signs bound for demolition. “He would pick up car parts and deliver car parts all over. So, I would schedule him to go pick up a sign for me in California when he was on his was to Texas to visit his kids in college. So, that’s how I got a lot of these big signs from California. He would hold them for me for four to six months until he would visit his kids. I spent all my extra money for ten years on all this stuff. My father-in-law said the other day, ‘Sell all that stuff and you’ll have enough money.’ I was like, ‘Why would I want to do that? We won’t have nothing to look at when we walk in.’ How boring that would be.”
“I’ve had so much that we have already sold that I regret now,” Annette says. “It’s just a dollar. They say there is a price for everything, but some of these things are never coming back. There is just no more of it. The way I look at it is that I want my grandkids to see things that they will never see again. And it might not be in my lifetime, but maybe in theirs, they will reap the benefit of all of it. I did not build this with the intent of getting rich, because I know richness comes from so much more. I’ve been blessed with family and friends, and we provide jobs for people. People think we are rolling in the dough, but we are not. We just put everything we have into something, and when you do, there is goodness that comes from it. It could be networking and helping other people. Whatever it is, whatever the goal is, I think there is something bigger for this than money. Love what you do, and enjoy life, because one day it will be gone. You never hear when someone dies, ‘He was a good guy. He made $3,000,000.’ Nobody cares how much money you had. People care if he enjoyed himself and had a good time.”
One of Annette’s recent acquisitions was Stewart’s Courts, an old motel in Texas, long out of service, built in 1916.
The story goes that this is the motel Bonnie and Clyde stayed in while waiting to break their friend out of Huntsville Prison. She could not let it be destroyed. She saw the value in preserving its history and its story before it was lost for future generations. She did not have a plan for the building, only that she knew it had to be rescued.
“Miss Mary was getting older and she said she just didn’t want to mess with it, but she didn’t want to demolish it,” Annette explains. “I told her, ‘Don’t demolish it! I’ll figure something out.'”
So, Annette had the building transported to her property in sections.
“It actually cost me more to move it than what I paid her for it,” she says. “So, I obtained it. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I couldn’t pass it up. So, I brought it here. My concept was to redo them and make them into little cottages, and maybe I will when time goes on. That was my original plan, but everything costs so much money. They tax your small business so much that we would have had to pay a hotel tax, and then there is the insurance. But, what happened was, they were going to demolish it. And I looked at buying it as I was starting up the store here. I couldn’t afford it. She wanted a lot of money for it. Last year, she called me and was like, ‘Look, I’ve got to either demolish it or you are going to have to take it.’ She had all the original stuff that went inside of it. It was opened in 1916. People started stealing the wood off of it. The original owner owned the mill, so he used the best wood to build it, so it all stayed intact. They knew at the time what room Bonnie and Clyde stayed in, but someone stole the board that they wrote on. Now that the motel rooms have been separated, I don’t know exactly which room it was.”