How this century-old map shop is thriving in the Internet age

Photo by Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

In the digital era, many businesses have had to fight to figure out how to change with the times. That includes Gallup Map in downtown Kansas City, founded in 1875, which spent most of the last century and a half selling things that Google now gives away for free.

Gallup Map was one of the first companies to make a road atlas and sold gorgeous drawn maps of the Kansas City area. Owner Patrick Carroll’s parents bought the business in 1967 as an extension of their framing business. The mapping business quickly overtook the framing one. Carroll didn’t take over the business until 1986, when his father died—he didn’t change much about the business model until technology forced his hand.

Carroll knew something was going to have to change. The impetus came in 2004, when a bus ran into his building and destroyed the back side. Carroll had to go through hundreds of old maps in tubes to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, discovering a treasure trove of intricate hand-drawn maps of the Kansas City area and beyond. Thus, Gallup Map & Art was born.

You might think that, after a century, the pivot to selling maps as art would happen gradually, but, Carroll says, “It seems like it happened overnight.” Carroll scanned the antique maps to digitize them, starting with one custom-colored map of the Lake of the Ozarks. He brought the Ozarks map to boat shows around the region, and it was an instant hit.

“I had people blocking the aisle between booths just to see my map,” Carroll says.

Today, that map is available as wallpaper, large prints, blankets, playing cards, decals, shirts and more. He has also expanded to customizing maps of other lakes, maps of the area, custom maps of honeymoon destinations for wedding gifts and maps of colleges. All of them were created from a hand-drawn map in his archive—and he’ll make you a new art map upon request.

“I sell maps as a beautiful way to tell your story,” he says.

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