Friday, October 17, 2008

Antiques business owners react, adjust to economic climate - nwherald.com

By DIANA SROKA - dsroka@nwherald.com

Seven years ago, a normal week meant 300 or 400 customers would stop by Colonial Antique Mall in Woodstock, one of seven antiques shops in town.

But now, Lee Muto's antiques mall is the only one of its kind in Woodstock, and the average number of weekly customers is down to 100 or 150.

Across McHenry County, antiques business owners are watching shops close, sales drop and foot traffic decline. Although they agree that it's been a tough decade for the antiques market nationwide, there's debate over how much of the shift is because of the tumultuous economy or to a change in consumer tastes.

Many store owners attribute the shifts in the market to the rise of big-box stores such as Ikea, Target or Wal-Mart.

"People are wanting cheap and fast," Muto said. "If it fits in the corner and it works for them, they buy it. They're not interested in buying for the value."

Muto has been in the business for 35 years. She said the young adult generation, more than any other, turns to retail stores for furniture because they think it saves them money. But these young consumers might not be getting the deal they think, she said.

"That's a misconception, because antiques are usually less money than your Target and your cheap stuff," Muto said. "And [antiques] are made of real wood; they [will be] here forever."

The average all-wood dresser ranges from $195 to $250 at Colonial, Muto said, and there are dressers priced as low as $75 and as high as $900. According to the Ikea Web site, a chest of drawers not necessarily made of all wood can cost anywhere from $30 to $400.

But not all shoppers are opting for the retail furniture.

"Ikea is cool because it's throwaway furniture, ... but people are getting sick of the quality," said Lisa Santiago, sales manager at the Volo Antique Malls on Old Volo Village Road.

She said shoppers were opting for higher-quality pieces, and Hoosier cabinets had been particularly popular at the Volo malls in recent weeks. At the Volo malls, the price of these kitchen cabinets ranges from $495 to $525, Santiago said.

Hutch-style kitchen cabinetry from Target ranges between $200 and $549, according to the Target Web site.

Santiago declined to provide sales figures, but said sales took a dip after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She said sales now were rising at the mall but hadn't bounced back to what they were before the terrorist attacks. However, from her perspective, customers haven't ruled out buying antique furniture or other home items.

"They find a way to afford it," she said. "They work hard to buy the piece."

Shoppers also are becoming increasingly more wary of how much they spend. It's not uncommon for customers to visit the store several times before making a purchase, or come back with a friend or spouse.

"They'll go home, think it over and come back," said Pat Miller, owner of Solid Brass Fine Antiques in Richmond. "People are very careful about how they spend their money."

Once customers nail down an item they'd like to buy, they're more prone to haggle down the price than they were in the past.

At most antiques shops, items are priced by dealers before they are placed on display and available for purchase. However, Santiago said, many customers are ignoring the tags and naming their own prices – requiring shop owners and dealers to accommodate this new trend.

"We do leave that door open," Santiago said. "We go out of our way to try and help the dealer."

Beyond negotiating prices, antiques business owners are paying special attention to the presentation of their items and their niche in the antiques market.

Miller's store in Richmond specializes in high-end antiques, such as military equipment, tools and clocks. Unlike other shops, many of Miller's items are geared toward men.

Miller's shop is one of eight remaining antiques hubs in Richmond. Ten years ago, there were 15 antiques shops in Richmond, and in 1972, Richmond was home to 40 antiques shops.

At the Volo antiques malls, dealers are encouraged to group like items together or create a scene, or vignette.

"If it's thrown together, ... they're not going to do well," Santiago said.

In spite of the challenging economy, antiques business owners are optimistic about the future of their market and convinced that business will re-ignite when the economy thrives again.

"As long as people have a business mind, they're going to be fine," Santiago said. "Everything that happens with the economy happens in antiques."

Tips for preserving antiques

• For furniture, leave the finish alone, even if it's stained.

• For books, don't oil leather book covers.

• For silver, avoid high-octane metal polishes.

• For brass, polish items regularly.

• For garden antiques, bring them indoors during winter or cover them to keep water from freezing over them.

Source: Antiques Roadshow Web site, www.pbs.org/roadshow

1 comment:

Craig White said...

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