Owner Steven Fiegenbaum said that his sales are up 35 percent over last year and that his top vendors are earning between $8,000 and $10,000 a month. There’s a two-year waiting period to become a vendor.
The key to his success has been investing a large amount in advertising, creating displays to showcase merchandise and making shoppers feel welcome with customer service, refreshments and even wine.
“Sales are important,” Fiegenbaum said. “The big guys, Macy’s and Dillard’s, have established it that people love a sale, so we’re always having storewide sales.”
Many antiques dealers nationwide, however, are struggling financially.
“The antique industry as a whole has been hit by the economy. I think it really goes hand in hand with the housing industry,” said Mary Helen McCoy, a member of New York-based National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America and a private antiques dealer in Charleston, S.C.
There is less demand for antique furniture, though customers are still interested in buying smaller objects. Some artwork, such as pieces from contemporary and modern artists, is more popular than others, McCoy said.
Some regions have been hit harder than others. Many dealers have been forced to sell their items privately because they can no longer afford a storefront, she said.
“I think the South was hit pretty hard,” McCoy said. “New York seems to be recovering quicker than most of all other areas because you have so many people from all over the world.”
Antiques are luxury items, not necessities, so the market has taken a big hit, said Lincoln Sander, the executive director of Connecticut-based Antiques Dealers’ Association of America.
“However, the high end of the business is healthier than the bottom,” Sander said. “The people who sell the real investment quality, the best of the best of antiques and art, that business seems to have come back.”
Prices have also declined significantly in the middle and lower-end markets. Shoppers want bargains.
“If you want to do business, you’ve got to put your price where you can sell it. Often, that’s a lot lower than you thought,” Sander said.
Many local antiques dealers are selling new items to appeal to a younger crowd. The Antique Market’s top vendor, Linda Wilcox, sells new baby items, including clothing and furniture, in addition to hard-to-find items such as toyboxes.
Distinctly Different Antiques on Highland Avenue carries new items in addition to antique and vintage furniture and decorative accessories, said owner Debbie Warren. She said that sales are up from last year.
“I just changed my mix around a little bit,” she said. “I think you always have to do what you can to find something new and exciting to put a twist on something old.”
She has tried to make antique and vintage furniture appeal to younger customers by helping them see the value and quality of the products.
“I think this is the way that antiques are going to have to be marketed now,” Warren said.
Trends & Traditions Antique Mall on Washington Road tries to appeal to younger customers, who have started buying midcentury modern furniture, owner Scott Shepherd said.
“We try to show people in the vignettes that you can mix the new and old, and it looks good,” Shepherd said. “All antique businesses have learned that they have to carry the new stuff, too. You can’t live off just antiques alone.”
Paul Boulus, the owner of Aiken Augusta Antiques on Walton Way, said that his sales are strong, probably because he doesn’t rely solely on the Augusta market. He spends five days each month selling at a large antiques show in Atlanta, he said.
Locally, it’s difficult to get top prices on items because “Augusta is full of beautiful antiques” since it’s an older city, he said. His most popular items are French antiques and Italian painted furniture, particularly among people with disposable income.
He said that eBay has changed the antiques industry, eliminating the need for storefronts.
Aiken Antique Mall on Laurens Street is “feeling the crunch of the economy,” though being in business for 16 years has helped, manager Gaye Cain said.
“We’re doing OK,” Cain said. “I’ve been hearing a lot of antique shops are not doing well, so I feel very fortunate that we are doing as well as we are.”