I’ve just looked on my Word Press home page and this is my 107th blog entry. I promised myself 100 entries. Tiny drum roll please. I’m enjoying it, so I’ll keep on going. My goal has been to write something once a week about an aspect of my life spent in the antique trade, and the pursuit of Canadian folk art in particular. Beyond this my intension has been to go beyond the technical, and take a look at a life spent as I suggest “seeking authentic”. What is it in an item that catches me, and keeps me interested? Why do I care? Actually, I am more interested in the expression of beauty, and the preservation of it, than I am in the industry per se, but I have also made a living from my full time involvement, so the industry part affects me. Today I’m thinking about that.
We listen to a lot of NPR in this house. Jeanine tries to clear her agenda every day at three to listen to Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I’ve become a fan as well. It’s too much politics these days, but it’s still intelligent radio. On Wednesday in the morning I was listening to a business review as I was doing up the breakfast dishes, and a report came on about changes in the antique business since the introduction of on-line shopping about the year 2000. The program confirmed that as those of us in the industry know, the antique industry has taken a hard punch, and is now greatly reduced in size. I think it suggested over-all the industry is down 60%, but I could have that figure muddled, and after spending a half hour searching the NPR site I could not find the interview to check it. In any case it’s dramatic. They had a quote from one of the appraisers from the Antiques Road Show on how half of the shops in his home town of Houston, Texas had already closed down, and the others were in trouble. The thesis suggested that the value of dark furniture, china, pottery, etc. dropped dramatically as these items became more easily available on-line. Basic consumerism. Why drive around when you can sit at your desk and order exactly what you are looking for? This situation is essentially true for all retail, and with rising costs for a bricks and mortar location, it just takes a trip through the down town of a small city to see the results of this situation. We have big box stores on the edges of towns but less and less independent little shops in the core. It’s a shame really for those of us who live to dig around in crowded, interesting spaces, but it is entirely understandable.
They chose the antique industry as an example because it has suffered the double whammy of changing retail structure, and of changing cultural tastes. There are now more Millennials than there are baby boomers. It’s a fact, and so far the kids don’t want their grandparents finely made dining room suites, or their knick-knacks. Nor do they want their Great-Grandparents diamond point armoire or harvest table as difficult as that is to comprehend. At this point the show tried to be up-beat by suggesting that the day may come when the children of the Millennials will decide they want fine mahogany furniture again instead of Ikea, and the cycle will begin again; but I doubt it will be as simple as that. And what dramatic changes would need to take place in the economy for the rents of commercial space in busy markets to drop significantly so that an antique shop could start to open up again. I’m not looking to bring everybody down here although the program did not make me feel chipper. I believe that by looking at the reality of the situation, and acknowledging the changes , we might better be able to make the best of it. There is no question that the industry has diminished, but there is still a lot going on.
Pickers are still dropping furniture off the back of their pick-up trucks at various antique shows. A lot of the co-ops, on-line sites, and surviving shops continue to do good business. Facebook groups, and magazines continue to support and bolster the ideas behind collecting, and at the heart of it all, yes, I still believe that many people will potentially come to grow tired of mass consumerism, and will come to “seek authentic” for themselves. To everything, change, change, change.
O.K. next week I will be back to tell a humorous story about my truck catching fire or some such thing, but this week I really wanted to acknowledge the effect that radio report had on me. It can’t all be happy face, and I believe in facing these realities head on to understand and move beyond them. And the one thing I know for certain is that some unforeseen thing, or event will come along that will totally change everything. We have to remain positive to make that positive change. We have to keep at it. Support and encourage, and enjoy what you love. It’s still the best game in town.