Ponca City, Here We Come
On the road to a northern Oklahoma landmark
Photos by Matt Payne
Grand Relics, an antique shop located at 200 W Grand in downtown Ponca City, seems at a distance to be – much like Ponca itself – charming but familiar. Inside the first floor of the store, you meander through bits and pieces of Americana and antiquity, but it isn’t until you enter a spacious and sharply decorated car elevator and begin to ascend to the 14,000-square-foot building’s second floor that you realize when it comes to Grand Relics – again, much like the city – there is much more than meets the eye.
Classic rock blasts as the auto elevator stops and you step out into the second floor of Grand Relics. The expanse seems overwhelming, and even the owners agree. “When we first walked into the building, we didn’t think much of it,” says owner Tamara Behara. “But when we saw the second floor, we thought, ‘This is it.’ We had to open here.”
Sunlight blasts through old warehouse windows that wrap around the entire space, which feels like part ephemera shop, part New York art studio where a society party might break out at any moment. Everything from old bikes, antique roadside signs and curious taxidermy to repurposed dressers and stovetops covered in creative knickknacks are tastefully displayed and cleverly incorporated into a manner, particularly to those with industrial taste and antique flair, that is nothing shy of urban chic.
Behara, along with business partner Charlotte Ryan, opened Grand Relics earlier this year. The long-abandoned building originally had been a car warehouse, and the new owners made sure the structure retained some of those automotive features – including, most importantly, the famed car elevator. Behara’s husband, Earl, designs and builds much of the repurposed furniture throughout both floors.
“We try to keep a standard assortment of antiques and garden decorations, but the younger crowd has really responded largely to the industrial art upstairs,” says Behara.
Ponca’s artistic and entrepreneurial spirit hasn’t merely manifested itself here, either; it’s taken over downtown Ponca City, which until recently has been known almost exclusively for the Marland Mansion. With an assortment of boutique shops, some terrific food and stunning historically significant murals, the flower-lined center of town has become one of Oklahoma’s most up-and-coming main streets, proving that Ponca Pride extends far beyond the Marland Mansion.
Where to eat
The Astoria Blvd. Bistro & Bar, 217 E Grand, is Ponca’s prime dining (and drinking) experience. Open for lunch and dinner, The Astoria offers a spacious urban feel with dark walls, high ceilings and natural light. On a chalkboard behind the bar is a list of selected craft beers, wines and signature drinks that change frequently. The Astoria specializes in salads and sandwiches. On the sandwich side, the Downtown Hammy is enough to fuel the rest of the day. The Carnivore, despite its name, is a salad, whose featured ingredient is – you guessed it – meat … turkey and salami, and lots of it.
Where to shop
The Bag Lady, 205 E Grand, began as a trunk show of purses before evolving into a small store. Ponca resident Terron Liles purchased the boutique and moved it to Grand Avenue, where it quickly has become the heart and soul of the town. The Bag Lady boasts merchandise from designers such as Kendra Scott and Fossil, as well as Bare Minerals makeup. Attached to the boutique is a high-end salon run by Liles’ sister.
Liles’ role in Ponca City extends well beyond the doors of his shop: In 2012, he brought back Crazy Days, a three-day event of sales and a street party in downtown. In 2015, he brought back Ponca’s holiday gala held at the Marland Mansion.
“Terron has been instrumental in so many things here in Ponca,” says Chelsea McConnell, director of Main Street. “Ponca wouldn’t be Ponca without him.”
Whimsy, 318 E Grand, is an upscale boutique featuring gifts including handmade soaps, candles and trendy T-shirts, but what makes Whimsy special is its relationship to the community. Whimsy has paired with The Opportunity Center, an organization dedicated to finding employment to local residents with disabilities. Many items in the store are made by participants of this organization, and are specially tagged to honor the efforts made by those hardworking individuals behind the pieces.
What to see
Veterans’ Plaza – While much of downtown Ponca’s shopping and dining has become more progressive, on the corner of 4th and Grand, Ponca City pays tribute to its past. Veterans’ Plaza is a beautifully designed memorial dedicated to the veterans of Kay County who fought in all wars. This open-air space is beautifully landscaped with bench seating, and features a splash pad for kids trying to escape the Oklahoma heat.