Evolution of an Antique Dealer - Then and Now - More Reminiscing

I no longer do shows, but many of my fellow antique dealer friends still do. Over lunch or dinner we often reminisce about the "way things were". It's especially easy to wax nostalgic these days given the dismal economy and the mostly lackluster shows of the last several years.

As mentioned in an earlier blog article, our area of South Florida has suffered the loss of many venues. The economy is the main reason, but other factors have contributed to the demise of some of these venues. For example, there was one promoter who handled a series of outdoor park shows. She wound up having to cancel all the shows within Broward County due to a change in the county's requirements for licensing which made it prohibitively expensive and unrealistic for the promoter to continue. It is likely that adjacent counties will follow suit.

One of the other promoters used to hold indoor shows once a month except for August. This was the anchor event for over 200 dealers who relied on that income. After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the site became an emergency distribution center for all of South Florida and as such offered no events throughout the hurricane season, from June through December! That meant a loss of 5 monthly shows and you can imagine the loss the dealers who relied on that show suffered.

Without having to think too hard about it, I can count 18 (mom and pop type) antique shops, 5 large antique malls, and 12 consignment shops within a 20 miles radius closing in the last 5 years. More than half of these places were in business for 10 or more years. In addition to those stores, at least 3 local auction houses shut their doors. One of these malls also housed a restaurant which was a magnet for dealers to meet and talk in a relaxed atmosphere (and to get delicious food at the same time). With those malls closing, many of us lost a destination location for both buying and socializing. Nothing comparable has come about to replace those places.

Some blame the advent of the internet and Ebay. Others PBS's Antiques Roadshow. By 2005 the many survivors of Ebay and the Roadshow were doing fairly well. The shops that had closed by 2005 succumbed to the online competition. The closings that have happened since are different. I believe they reflect a deep-seated change in the overall society's lack of desire for antiques and collectibles (just old junk and dustables according to many!!). And, of course, the economy and the housing bust. Who needs decorative items when your house is under water (literally or figuratively) or you don't have a job or you're facing foreclosure?

So...what does all this mean? How does it effect my life as an antique dealer? Let's compare it to how a typical day for me used to unfold.

Before 2005, a typical work day for me would begin with a 10 hour work day between the shop and housecalls. Besides normal shop-related activities, the day included packing and labelling any items slated for shipping, responding to online inquiries and phone calls, inventorying freshly purchased merchandise, photographing these new items, cleaning or polishing them, pricing them and in some cases emailing photos to prospective clients or listing them on various online sites. After all that was done it would often mean a trip to the bank and to the post office. On my one weekday "off" it would include some of the above activites plus a few hours "making the rounds". The "rounds" entailed going from shop to shop, making purchase decisions, previewing auctions and on the weekends, going to shows.

Now, without the brick & mortar store a typical day begins and ends on the computer. There are no "rounds" to be made on the one day off. There are no late lunches to be had. There is only one auction/month that needs previewing and that can be done online. Most weekends are free of antique shows except during the winter season. Typically, the "business" activities take about 2 hours now (fewer sales) and trips to the post office and bank are fewer as most transactions can be done through Paypal and most shipments can be picked up by the USPS carrier at the front door at no extra charge (most international shipments and high insurance items still require an in-person trip to the post office). Even house calls are much fewer. Many people or their children are able to list their items themselves through Craig's list or other inexpensive online venues. Many are more savvy than ever about "collectibles" and price their items too high for me to handle. I now more actively screen and pre-qualify prospective house calls to see if any of the type of items I am interested in are part of the sale and at what price. Before, I'd go to just about any house call because there was nearly always a treasure to be uncovered. I used to make a couple of house calls a week. In 2010, I did only six housecalls and I didn't buy one single item!

My income needs have not changed. In fact, they have increased considerably with the increase in the cost of gasoline, home owner's insurance, real estate taxes, and many basic food items and services. And since I rely on sales to support myself, it is very disheartening to experience the lost selling venues as well as the lost buying venues.

On the bright side, I still have over 3,000 saleable items. Also, opportunities reveal themselves every now and then that were not part of the routine. For example, my (new) next door neighbor is a snowbird from upstate NY. I took him to my storage unit and he bought over 35 items!! Cool, eh? With luck, he'll be back for more before the snow melts. Maybe next time he'll bring members of his flock along with him!

Barbara Jokel
That Was Then Antiques

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