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Discover Mid-America— August 2010

The markets where antiques join vintage

As a business, call antiques a fickle endeavor. Trends come and go, prices more likely set by what one will pay than by what something is worth. Nostalgia can create appeal, forming a bubble of demand. What’s hot one year is cool the next. What the next attraction is can be anyone’s guess.

“You know this business,” said antique dealer Kevin Roberts, “it’s always going to be the last thing you imagine it to be.”

Kevin Roberts, a former specialist at Christie’s, likes the communal atmosphere at Bottoms Up.

Few dealers would object to that notion.

But 27-year-old Roberts, a former Christie’s specialist in New York in American furniture, is part of new a trend in the antique business — vintage markets. There’s no “flea” in the market Roberts is part of. Bottoms Up, located in Kansas City’s old warehouse district in the West Bottoms in a turn-of-the-century multi-story building, is where antiques meets vintage. The emphasis turns on unique home décor not the tradition-bound collecting of antiques.

“Antiques are fine but there’s still this kind of granny’s attic mentality,” said Bottoms Up co-founder Steve Rogers. “The reality is people are looking for a mix of designs — low design, high design — with multiple price points, trying to create a look in their home.”

Price dictates high end such as “a mid-century modern or a piece from Europe,” said Rogers. That is mixed with something from an estate sale, flea market or antique mall. The result is a unique decorating but functional home decorating scheme.

“We’re both a consumers’ market and dealers’ market,” said Gwen McClure, Rogers’ partner at Bottoms Up. McClure is a retired federal employee; Rogers has a background in advertising and marketing. The two met while doing business at Mission Road Antiques in Prairie Village, KS.

McClure, who spent seven years living in Lyon, France, enjoyed many a day browsing through that city’s markets. She wants Bottoms Up to have a French market atmosphere.

“You sit, you have a café. It becomes a destination, a meeting place, one of congeniality. I’m high on congeniality,” said McClure.

Being good with customers is a big part of how McClure vets dealers for Bottoms Up. And with that McClure looks for a talent for presentation. The old warehouse lends itself to spacious and creative layouts of antiques and vintage items.

“We’re kind of all about displays,” said McClure. “The old antiquing days of throwing a bunch of junk on a table (doesn’t happen here).”

For Roberts, the space gives him a chance to show more unique items. Displays can mimic a living room or bedroom setting and given the space, interested buyers have the room to study the setting and examine antique and vintage items. Where an antique mall charges for the space used, Bottoms Up once-a-month show allows dealers the luxury to be creative without too much added expense.

Yet, it’s a managed approach. “We don’t want to get over-saturated with any one look and try and balance the load,” said Rogers. “It’s a pretty simple concept. We’re not overly orchestrated.”

The dealers spoken to at the July show seemed content. Dealer Don Moore thinks vintage markets will rejuvenate the antique business. He calls it a teaching experience for the younger generation, a place to get educated on the antique business.

“(It’s about) bringing them down to this venue, getting their interest inspired on what they want, what they’re looking for,” said Moore. “The younger generation is dealing with quite a bit of nostalgia — with my generation. With the younger generation, they want low maintenance, clean looks in no particular category.”

For Cheri James, a counselor by profession who only took to antiques a few years ago, the Bottoms Up appeal comes from “the paradox of something really old and something really chic — like an iron-rusted table with a velvet couch. It’s eclectic.”

The historic multi-story warehouse gives dealers at Bottoms Up plenty of room for their antique and vintage item displays.

“Chic” and “eclectic” are two words that can be attached to Kim Dye. She is the founder of Vintage Market North in the Zona Rosa shopping district and her newest venue, Vintage Market South in Leawood, KS.

“I think she has hit on something,” said Kathy Aulgur, friend and co-worker of Dye’s. “She has a great decorating flair, an eye for vintage things and she has a signature style.”

That style for Aulgur is the way Dye mixes vintage pieces in decorating. “It doesn’t have to be from one era to come up with a pleasing grouping,” said Aulgur.

Like many creative people, Dye shows more confidence in her process than ease in explaining it. As a former boutique owner in Parkville, MO and a hairstylist, patrons of Vintage Market don’t hesitate to ask her for her decorating ideas.

Vintage Market North presents a colorful array of antiques and vintage items.

“I try and show people how to mix the old and new together, to create warm feelings of the past,” Dye said.

Her vendors (dealers), added Dye, are both antique and boutique type. “I’m not one of these that everything has to be old. But I try to make sure they keep something within that realm,” she said.

To determine a customer’s decorating needs, Dye may ask about the age of the house they live in, what the color scheme is and how much of a vintage look they may want brought into their home.

“I may then walk them around (the shop) and point out things they may use,” said Dye.

Vintage Market North has a colorful and invigorating presence. Items for the home and personal use are creatively arranged to catch the eye and invite inspection. The mix is wide and genuine. For Dye, the definition of “vintage” is straightforward. “Reminds me of the past, of things we were comforted with when we were younger.”

Dye began her vintage journey by setting up showcases every couple of months in different areas within Zona Rosa. After a very successful Christmas showcase last holiday season and customer demand, Dye took the concept full time — unlike the once-a-month shows of other Kansas City area vintage markets. She considers her Vintage Market a good counterpoint to any perceptions of a “corporate feel” at the shopping district.

Vintage Market North in the Zona Rosa shopping district.

“It (Zona Rosa) seems to be the place everyone likes to shop,” said Dye. “It’s a nice shopping center; there’s nothing like it up here (north). People are liking (my shop) because it’s has a hometown feel.”

Where other vintage markets create the element of anticipation to bring in patrons by limiting the number of shows each month, Dye attaches themes each month to both of her vintage markets. “Cottage Charms” is the theme for Vintage Market South at the end of July, and at Vintage Market North, Dye is planning a street-scene shopping event called “Visions of Paris” for Sept. 9-12.

Whether vintage markets dilute or enliven the antique business aren’t issues for the owners and operators of Bottoms Up, Vintage Market and other vintage market operators. Their business track record keeps improving. But as some antique shops and malls struggle in a tough economy, the innovation Rogers, McClure and Dye have shown in their entrepreneurship are lessons others in the antique retail trade should take notice of.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher@discoverypub.com.


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