by Dennis Barker
If you spend much time hanging around traditional antiques shops, sooner or later you're going to hear a shop owner comment, that there are just aren't as many collectors as there used to be. And, if your taste’s run toward traditional antiques, it probably appears that way. The truth however, is just the opposite. You don't have to look very far to discover that more and more people are out there looking for vintage items to incorporate into their homes, wardrobes or collections. Stop at any flea market, vintage or resale shop, and you'll find them buzzing with a mostly younger crowd, hungry for "old things". Two things seem to account for the divergent experience between antiques and vintage shop owners. The first is obvious. Economics. Lots of folks are feeling a financial pinch, and everybody is looking for a bargain. Still more difficult for antiques dealers is the second. Perception. It seems that many among the flood of new collectors think of antiques as stodgy & expensive, believing they can find more value in "secondhand" shops. Neither is true; there is a lot of fun and value to be found in an antiques shop.
When I was kid, the Guess Who pleaded, "don't give me no hand me down world", our depression era mothers couldn't convince us that our older brothers half worn levis were as good as a new pair, and we were embarrassed if the neighbors old sofa or lamp turned up our living room. Our motto was, give us the new stuff. The social exception was our grandfather's old chair. It was an antique, you see.
And the world turns. I suppose this all got started with the shabby chic trend. But today, the ideals of my youth have been upended, and the once derided secondhand item is now the ecological, economical and sociological darling of the 20-30 something generation. And I'll admit, it is a better way. There's no arguing that the current reuse, recycle, and re-love craze is a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. But wait...... isn't that exactly what antiques shops have been doing for a couple of hundred years?
Just as "keep it green" has become our mantra, the terms vintage and retro have become the darlings of design & fashion. And, over the past few years, a burgeoning resale market has exploded to fill the growing demand. Inexplicably, antiques shops, the original recyclers, have found themselves outside looking in. But the truth is, that antiques and vintage/retro stores are really just different sides of the same coin. Both populate their shelves with old merchandise, that has been rescued, cleaned, refurbished and made ready for the next owner. And more importantly, bargains abound in both venues.
You say tomato, I say tomahto. It often comes down to semantics. I’ve been in dozens of Utah antiques shops that have little on their shelves that would meet the technical definition of antique. Most of their merchandise would fit nicely into a vintage resale shop. As a matter of fact, there is hardly a resale shop that doesn’t have a few antiques, nor an antiques shop without lots of decorative and vintage items. The only difference; the antiques dealer likely calls these things “collectibles”, and the resale shop owner probably uses the trendy “vintage/retro/reuse” buzz words. When you’re looking for a chest of drawers for the spare room, that fits your budget and ecological bent, who really cares. I’ve bought lots of vintage stuff at antiques shops, and antiques in vintage shops. Why not expand your shopping universe.
Take a look at the two chest of drawers pictured above. One from a resale shop, and the other from an antiques seller. Dependent on your sense of style, either would do the trick. They’re both about the same price, will store whatever you need stored, and, will save a tree and about $500.00 over a trip to RC Wiley’s. More importantly, you might find either at a vintage or antiques shop.
So, next time you’re out looking for something you can reuse, repurpose and re-love, think green, and don’t be afraid to stop by the original recyclers, your local antiques shop. They’re loaded with just the kind of things you want. That guy behind the counter may not know the jargon, but he might have just what you’re looking for.