That Was Then: Once upon a Time...or How it all Started

My hope is that you will find something amusing or interesting in my next series of articles based on my personal experiences as an antique dealer. This first anecdote starts with doing my very first show.

I had accumulated an abundance of unsold inventory and so figured doing a show would help me to unload that stock. Prior to that I peddled my wares to a short list of buyers one on one. I didn't expect that doing shows would lead to a permanent change in lifestyle or that such a passion for the antique business would be ignited.

The very first show I did was a very large show of about 500 dealers in various indoor buildings some of which were air conditioned and some that were not. There was also at least an acre's worth of outdoor, unsheltered show space as well. As a newbie, I was lucky to be assigned a corner booth in an non-air conditioned outer building. Setting up for a show in those days was total chaos. The show managers, although in the business for years, did not have a consistent crew or system so we would line up in our vehicles in a first come/first serve manner and regardless of where our pre-assigned booths were, we had to unload in place. Although set up was supposed to start at noon Thursday, we were often left to sit in our vehicles for hours before we were allowed to unload. All this often meant you were up to a half mile from your vehicle to the booth! And in those days, even winter shows here in South Florida were brutally hot and the promoters did not waste a nickel on air conditioning during setup and packout. Even in the buildings that had A/C, it was only turned on about an hour before official show opening and it was turned off about an hour before show closing. Because my assigned space was in a non-air conditioned building, and it was about 90 degrees out with 100% humidity, setup was especially difficult and draining.

A close friend of mine drove across the state to help me with the show that weekend. The show setup was supposed to begin at noon Thursday and the show opened at 10 a.m. on Friday and ran through Sunday 5 p.m. Marie, all 4'10" of her was stronger than a man twice her weight! Her experience doing craft shows came in handy and we got through setup with a minimum of problems. At that time, I did not have really good display materials. Even if I had had the money to invest in displays, I wasn't so sure I would be doing it full-time. So we worked with the wobbly shelves and stands I had muddled together and managed to arrange a very attractive booth. Also, at that time, I was dealing primarily in interesting and beautiful china and porcelain. The merchandise itself beckoned the public to come look closer. After all, I always did have a good eye - just not the champagne budget.

After the first two days and managing to sell about a thousand dollars worth of merchandise, and feeling very pleased, I began to wonder what a "good" show meant. I asked some of the seemingly friendly dealers in adjacent booths. Many said they had had a "good" show. It didn't take too long to realize that that word "good" was relative. What was good to one, might not be good to another. If my neighbor's expectation was $5,000.00 and he made less than that, then of course his opinion would be that he did not have a good show. Of course, I had no way of knowing that his expectation was $5,000.00 so if he said he had a not-so good show, I didn't really know what to make of that. On the other hand, I, who had no expectations thought $1,000.00 was terrific! After expenses, and cost of inventory, I netted about $600.00 (all cash) which was only $400.00 off what I had been earning at my full time professional job (before being downsized). For only 4 days work. Not 5. Of course, I, as all of us in the trade do, failed to consider all the time it took to shop for, find, clean, tag, inventory, pack, and unpack or to allot a monetary value to all that work. I figured that if my first show yielded that much profit then future shows should do better as I got to refine my show inventory and bettered the display and got to know my new clientele better.

When I got home and was doing a kind of "post-mortem" of this first show experience and making notations in my notebook about sales, I stunned myself to realize that although I might have "netted" $600.00, I had managed to spend $700.00 on all the good buys I found at the show!! I left with more boxes than I had arrived with and a rather large hole in my pocket. My life would never be the same. I was thoroughly hooked. Over the next 7 years I did over 26 shows per year and eventually earned my right to have a corner booth in the main, air-conditioned exposition building of the Fairgrounds. For most of those years and with all of the chaos, I still managed to pay all my bills, upgrade to a van (vs. a sedan) buy new inventory, and enjoy the heck out of doing the antique show circuit.

I waxed nostalgic writing the above tale. Unfortunately, there is no longer such a thing as a show "circuit" here in South Florida. Many promoters have stopped doing antique shows. Even the antique shows held in local parks have been reduced to just a few and then only through the short winter season. It is still true, however, that even though I do most of my transactions online now, I still love this business!

Barbara Jokel
That Was Then Antiques

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