Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This Business of Antiques

We closed our retail antique shop in October 2007 after thirty years in the business. The marketplace had changed and we hadn't changed with it. Didn't want to. We'd started off selling antiques that had meaning for us or had touched a chord. Things (and let's remember that they are things after all) that had some redeeming features: either of some historic merit; design merit; quirkiness; or rarity. We started out to make a living but didn't want to fall into the trap of selling things that were popular or just saleable. Oops. So after thirty years or so we have an inventory of stuff that we like but no one wants to buy. Oops.

You'd think that with the popularity of tv shows like The (British, American, Canadian) Antiques Roadshow there's be a huge interest in these relics of our past. But I've come to realize tain't so: the audience is a game show audience. It's the Price Is Right for the Sunday Times crowd. They love the show, the info, the history, the info-tainment, they love playing the how-much-is-it-worth game, but they ain't shopping. They're not voting with their discretionary dollars.

Here's my theory: our original customers were boomers. They started buying second hand, cheap and cheerful, and then grew into savvy antique shoppers, finding bargains as well as spending big bucks when the item called for it. They decorated; they collected. Now thirty years later, their kids are grown and flown, they're downsizing, they're disposing of the parents' estates. They're spending winters in Florida or Costa Rica or Remulac and they don't want all this stuff. So they're selling it off. But who's buying? There's a glut of really nice, but let's face it pretty ordinary, brown furniture out there. The kids don't want it. If they're interested in antiques at all, it's mid-century modern that they're following.

Well that's the theory anyway.

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