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Long-time Hannibal business specializes in Native American goods

The Native American Trading Company in Hannibal, Mo., features a collection of Original Blackware by Lawrence Vargas. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery


Downtown Hannibal has been on the upswing since 1993, the year of the great flood, Michael O’Cheltree, Main Street merchant, said. That year was the first test for Hannibal’s new flood wall. Merchants at that time were panicking as the river rose, but by the time the water receded in the fall, they had gained confidence in the wall’s ability to protect their commercial property.

“They began painting and fixing up,” their properties along Main Street, he said, and the result, some three decades later, “downtown Hannibal is a thriving historic area.”

Then, he said, the city revamped the riverfront, “and it is absolutely beautiful.”

O’Cheltree has operated a business downtown since the mid 1990s.

“Once upon a time, I was on the tourism board,”O’Cheltree said.  “Over 30 years ago, John Yancey put me on the board, even before I started a business. It was one of those things, they looked at Hannibal differently than they do today. They looked at Hannibal like it was a stopping off place to Branson.”

Today, “Hannibal has become a destination. People go here to be here. We have bed and breakfasts, good food, plenty of taverns. Hannibal is a place you can just sit back and enjoy your life and nobody is pushing you. The only thing we need is better parking,” he said.

O’Cheltree came to Hannibal in 1976, as a lineman for Ameren (Union Electric). “I was a trouble shooter for Ameren, on a crew out of Keokuk. Ameren supplied power to Hannibal and the cement plant. I bid on the job in Hannibal. My job was to make sure everything worked.”

His Main Street business, Native American Trading Company, is a culmination of his life-long interest in the Native American culture.

I’ve been in this business since in the early 1970s, when I lived in another town. I’d buy and sell (Native American) stuff, and I finally decided to go into business on the road. Ann (Subke) and I worked under the tent and went to different pow wows over the years.”

“Then,” he said, “we discovered something else -  air conditioning.” In the early 1990s, they opened a store at 208 North Street, in a building one of her customers had for sale. “John Norman rehabbed the building for me. That’s where we started, on North Street.”

The store was located on North Street for seven years.

The next location for Native American Trading Company was at 123 N. Main Street, a building they purchased from Beth Lane. Next, they moved the store to its current location, 115 N. Main.

“Dick Hills owned it; he had a trophy and T-shirt shop. He died, and we bought it from his widow, Pat. We rehabbed this building; it was lot of work. We’ve been here ever since.”

Pat Hills works in O’Cheltree’s shop one day a week. “She’s done a real good job,” O’Cheltree said.

Since moving to 115 N. Main, they have expanded the business. “We’ve changed a lot over the years,” he said. “We try to maintain authentic Native American-made stuff. We have different artists, jewelry, old and new,” he said, “but we try to specialize in American made.”

Ironically, one popular item that is no longer American made is the moccasins. “When I started, they were made in Mankato, Minn., but not any more. They are now made somewhere else. Things change, but the quality seems to be about the same.”

His clientele comes from all over the United States. “I’ve been to Santa Fe, (N.M.) and I’ve seen shops out there, and they don’t compare to what we have.”

His shop represents all of the Eastern Native American groups, Alaska, all tribes. He sells anything that is considered Native American made.

Artists featured in his store include Traci Rabbit, Rod Jackson, and baskets from the people of the Cherokee Nation.

“We try to help keep the culture alive.”

Today, O’Cheltree is on the board of the Hannibal Marketing Council. “I helped start it,” he said. “We do a lot of things downtown. We just finished up the Chocolate Extravaganza. The next event will be the Great Girlfriend Getaway, then Twain on Main. In between times, there are other organizations, like the car show. We try to keep downtown pretty business throughout the summer and fall.

“This weekend I was over at museum selling passport tickets for Chocolate Extravaganza. I try to stay active in the group.”

Michael O’Cheltree has been associated with Native American products for some 50 years. He operates Native American Trading Company at 115 N. Main Hannibal, Mo. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery

A display of American made necklaces represents styles for many tastes. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery


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