Ah, we make it look so easy!
You come eagerly into the shop and WOW — it’s all set up and displayed nicely and there’s so many eras and styles to choose from. There’s everything from stunning furniture pieces to kitschy art, from delicate porcelains to rugged industrials, from funky vintage decor to nostalgic kids’ toys.
But where does it all come from and how does it get here?
Let me tell you, it ain’t easy!
Vintage and antique vendors are some of the hardest working folks in show business! So I thought I’d give you a little peek behind the curtain to see what makes this place tick. And when you wonder, “Why is this priced this way?” you’ll have more insight after seeing how it all comes together.
Like other retailers, vintage and antique vendors have to source the things they put in their “store,” or what we call “booths.” Our whole store is divided into many booths with each booth representing one vendor (or set of partners). Some vendors have multiple booths in one location.
A Day In The Life
In order to get that unique, cool, wacky, delightful, or refined piece into their booths vendors have to first find it somewhere at a good enough price that once they’ve factored in all of their sourcing expenses — time, gas/travel, cleaning and/or repair, retail supplies like stickers and tags and bags, booth rental and commissions, and research tools and time — they can set a price that the market will bear and still come out able to make a living.
That’s why when folks ask, “Can you do any better on the price?” the truth is that THAT is the best price considering all the other expenses vendors have!
Antique dealers chase down all kinds of leads to source items. Friends and acquaintances will say things like, “Hey, would you want to buy this box of comic books from me?” and if we want to, we offer a wholesale or lower price because we’ll have to research the title on the Internet and bag and price all the comic books — it takes supplies and labor time, our version of being “on the clock.”
Or vendors hit public auctions, which honestly can be hit or miss. A day can be spent looking to buy a great item only to be outbid or to never have anything decent come across the block.
We seek finds at other sales and other shops, from white elephants and church bazaars to yard sales and off-the -beaten path (as in, far out-of-the-way) secondary thrift shops. A day spent driving all over the countryside or deep into a city can produce great results or no results or mediocre results but still, a lot of labor time was spent in the hunt.
Sorting and Cleaning
After items are found it can be a very time-consuming and laborious process to clean, fix, or restore an item.
I recently sourced an absolutely beautiful Mid Century Modern Grundig stereo console and, in addition to paying a mover to haul it back to the shop, I then had to send it out to a very knowledgeable electronics specialist to have it checked over and repaired for both the radio and the turntable. As you can imagine, he had a big bill for me. That was then reflected in my selling price as a restored 1950s stereo system (it’s beautiful by the way, and in the shop for $1000., a lot less than some of the prices you see for these).
That’s a larger item, but even smaller items have their issues.
A box of fantastic vintage textiles — fabrics, rugs, kitchen and bed linens, curtains, shawls, vintage clothes, etc., — has to be painstakingly cleaned and pressed in order to be showroom worthy. Both the supplies and the labor take money and time for the vendor.
Same goes for kitchen ware, furniture in general, lighting, decor, etc. It’s not that everything is perfectly cleaned or restored to a “like-new” condition. Some vendors find great old treasures and leave it up to the buyer to do any fine cleaning. But all of us still spend hours and hours in the searching, researching, pricing, and hauling process, all of which takes time.
Research, Research, Research
Vintage and antiques vendors are among some of the most fascinated, fascinating, and curious folks you’ll ever meet. They appreciate whatever slice of the past they’re into, whether it’s the Civil War and military artifacts, vintage children’s books and toys, a brand of product like Dansk or Llandro or Goebel, or a specific area such as textiles, art, books, or tools, or an era like Regency or Mid Century Modern.
Then vendors pursue their passions by reading up on items found in antique sourcers’ value books, and by doing independent reading in books and online about a time period or manufacturer or process or author or artist or product.
This dedicated research teaches us where things came from, how and where they were made, the story behind the individual artisan or anonymous artisan (like with much folk art and tramp art), or the history of a company that made something. We learn why something was created, what the market for it was, and how a following grew that wants to collect or find or restore that item.
Research may be among the most time consuming activities of all though it’s one that provides much satisfaction for curious and smart vendors. It also translates into being able to help our customers better understand something they’re looking for or are drawn to.
Lifting and Hauling and Displaying
To all this vendors must add one more thing — the time it takes to load up the car or truck and bring their “picking” finds down to the shop to display them with artistry and interest.
It takes staying active to lift and haul heavy boxes or balance delicate and fragile items in all kinds of weather to get it to the antiques showroom. Our vendors routinely come in to add stock, move things around, and keep our booths fresh.
This, among many other time-consuming ways, is how we fill our days as dealer/vendors.
Some will also sell on other outlets like Facebook, Etsy, Ebay, or 1stDibs. And if you’ve ever done that you know that the photo-uploading and the writing/listing takes a great deal of time as well.
There’s no rest for the weary so that vendors in any antique and vintage shop, not just ours, can bring great items to you.
And Now We Wait
Vendors love to delight customers. We find great happiness when folks find something they just “gotta have.” Yes, we love making sales — we’re not in this for our quirkiness alone; it is a business.
But we truly live for making customers thrilled over what they see and over what they decide to purchase.
Once all these amazing items adorn the shelf, representing eons of human history and output, it’s then the customer’s world.
It’s a world to simply browse if you just love seeing the plethora of unique items from the past.
It’s a world to hunt yourself if there’s a very specific item you simply must have, whether it’s a Madame Alexander Doll or a tobacco baseball card or a first-year issue pair of Air Jordans.
It’s a world to explore where simply by looking you learn what you’re attracted to and want to have as furnishings, decor, art, jewelry, and clothes.
So come on in and see what America’s “pickers” have found, have rescued, have given new life to. Buy what you love or just come by for a trip down memory lane. Because the best thing of all about the vintage and antiques business is that it’s just plain fun!
— Ellen Boden, Proprietress, Staunton Antiques Center