Refurnished Thoughts

Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2019

Reflections on the vintage trade

by Leigh Elmore

From time to time in this space I've quoted some observers of the antiques and vintage trade lamenting the perceived decline in its state of affairs. And from a overall perspective things have changed, and some sectors of the trade, antique furniture in particular, have seen virtual

We all seem to remember how things were "back in the good old days" when my massive Baby Boom generation was coming of age in the 1970s, starting families and building households in the 1980s and '90s. Things looked great then as prices for antiques soared with the growing prosperity of the Boomers and the need for furnishing our homes. When I was in my twenties in the '70s, dealers couldn't stock enough golden oak Art Nouveau furniture. We were snapping it up. Now we can't give it away to our children. But, hey, tastes change.

They say that nostalgia drives the antiques marketplace, and maybe nostalgia for a time when it was "easy" in the market drives the perception of current trends. Younger people who don't have those memories will be setting the trends going forward and they will have their own perceptions of just what were "the good old days."

Once upon a time there were no antique and vintage malls. This industry was built over the decades by thousands and thousands of single proprietor "Ye Olde" antique shops, which are still in abundance in larger cities and historic travel areas. But today, antique malls have become so ubiquitous that even if a dealer has their own brick and mortar shop in town, you can bet they have a presence in one of their outlying malls as well.

The evolution to antique malls is simply a reflection of how Americans like to shop for anything – we've moved from Main Street to Wal-Mart, like it or not. And for most dealers, they have been a godsend. They are able to rely on the marketing expertise of the mall's management, which serves to get people coming through the doors of the mall. As noted in this month's cover feature on the Paramount Antique Malls in Wichita, the managers are keenly tuned in to social media and work hard to keep a daily presence on it for their customers. All of their malls were busy with customers, so something is working.

And in those towns where Main Street businesses have had to close, often they have been replaced by antique shops and malls, such as in Claremore, OK, where antiques and vintage businesses have a distinct presence in the busy commercial district downtown.
Despite some shakeouts in specific genres, I truly believe that the long-term prospects of the vintage trade are good. Because everywhere that I have traveled in our readership area this year, dealers seem upbeat as they learn to reach new customers in different ways. As I heard in Wichita, "every year something else becomes vintage."

Now that's an optimistic outlook.

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at
Leigh Elmore's Refurbished Thoughts Archive — past columns