Antique sales have been on the decline in recent years. Everything from china sets to formal “brown furniture” is selling for way less or not moving. This past March, a New York Times article pondered, “How Low Will Market for Antiques Actually Go?” Big name dealers in the Big Apple have closed, repurposed or downsized. As the piece also noted, a set of carved mahogany chairs netted $8,000 in 2002, while two years ago a comparable grouping snagged only $350.
A number of things have driven this: IKEA and Wayfair, design trends unleashed by HGTV, millennials’ modern tastes, Baby Boomers downsizing, more casual lifestyles, our culture-wide proliferation of “stuff.” Yet some of these same forces are boosting sales for red-hot midcentury furniture and household items. While modern styles and clean lines are popular, so is accenting that look with antique pieces.
Maine isn’t immune from the downturn, but many dealers here are adapting and evolving even as others close. Look for new artisan-created items in the mix if you hit antique shops and flea markets this summer. With tourists flooding in and Mainers proud of their Yankee thrift, there’s still plenty around. Sellers with a good eye for classic pieces and a grasp on what’s changing are doing well, or well enough.
Another positive note: Millennials are in their consumer prime and many now own homes, so they are buying some antiques and novel vintage pieces, albeit in fewer numbers than previous generations. “They aren’t so much into antique collecting; they’re into a look,” said Randy Knee, co-owner of Hallowell Antique Mall. “The old primitives always sell well … Good quality furniture (if not dated or too formal) will sell all day long.”
She’s pleased with sales at the year-round business, which has 20 to 30 dealers, including herself. Furniture mostly fills one of two pale yellow buildings. Displayed outside are new concrete lawn ornaments – angels that stand, mask-like pieces that hang. In the other structure, dealer areas are nestled together. Bean pots, tools, snowshoes, cups and saucers, boxes, lamps, toys, they’re all here.
The business is the only open antique store in downtown Hallowell, once a Maine antiquing hot spot. Some shoppers at the mall still ask where the other shops are. They’re sorry to learn they’ve closed over the years, but customers love the restaurants in the river town.
Wells is an antiquing center in southern Maine, while Wiscasset and Searsport enjoy that designation on the midcoast. Searsport’s antique store association has about a dozen members along several miles of Route 1 and publishes a pamphlet listing them. The shops hand them out. A flea market, an indoor antique mall with 40 to 50 members and nice antique shops are among them.
So is Treasures & Trash Barn, its red paint in a fitting state of peeling. Massed by the highway north of downtown, items are grouped by type inside (doorknobs, hammers, tins, books) and outside (runner sleds, $1 glass bottles, $3 glass milk bottles, sinks). Lawn furniture fills the front lawn on owner Jeff Merry’s home next door. In the 1990s, he bought the establishment from his uncle, who opened it in the 1960s.
Artists and contractors come for industrial items and odds and ends. Steampunkers and well-heeled summer residents shop here, too. The iconic business’s location en route to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor has helped it hold its own. “They want a look, an accent piece … things they can repurpose,” Merry said about buyers today, pointing out the high ladders that folks cut to make trendy shelving.
South of the small downtown, Pumpkin Patch Antiques’ welcoming awning, signs and flowers invite a stop. The store is in the barn attached to owner Phyllis Sommer’s home. On the other side is her husband’s new folk art and nautical antiques shop. Ten or so dealers have items in Pumpkin Patch, but the artfully curated space feels like a single-dealer store.
An 18th-century Pennsylvania dry sink sits just inside the entrance to the 43-year-old business. Atop the $2,800 piece were antique lamps with new handcrafted shades; another striking pair by the same artisan, made of cardboard no less, quickly caught my eye. Upstairs, I was drawn to a small-scale couch, priced at several hundred dollars, from the 1920s. There was furniture for under $100, like a charming grayish-blue child’s armchair made in Canada. Items such as wood bowls and baskets, mirrors and framed art, were around the store. Jewelry was arrayed in glass cases in the center of the first floor.
Sommer was excited to see some younger folks become antique dealers and more millennials in her store. Regardless of their age, her customers “are carrying the history (of their purchase) with them.”
SAVE THE DATES
Maine has several major summertime antique shows, including: Camden-Rockport Historical Society Antiques Show & Sale, Camden Hills Regional High School, July 21-22; Maine Antiques Festival, Union Fairgrounds, Aug. 3-5; Ellsworth Antiques Show, Woodlawn Museum, Aug. 16-18; and Maine Antiques Exposition, Thompson’s Point in Portland, Sept. 15-16.