If you take out of the equation, Mid-20th Century Modern, the traditional antiques dealer no longer exists or does so as a relic of the past. Counting down the number of surviving dealers from just 20 years ago is a staggering thought. The monumental shift in taste has made the antiques business a one pony show of 20th Century and modern. Dealers in classical French, English, 17th, 18th, and 19th Century decorative arts might never appear again.
Never is a strong term, but the role of a dealer must evolve into being more of a merchant than a curator. No one ever accused Sotheby’s and Christie’s of being curators, but rather as super promoters. If you want to curate, go to a museum; to make money you have to raise the awareness of your business and promote it so it can engage one’s visual and intellectual attention. You don’t do that by building walls of intimidation (go to a “fancy” antiques show), price deception (auction with secret reserves or dealers not showing a price tag), and difficulty in finding and shipping the item. We are not talking about buying TV’s, but these are major obstacles to connect with the potentially massive public domain.
These issues of making it difficult to embrace the public will not be ameliorated by any dealer run organization, as has been the case for the last 35 years (since the British dealers blinked at the imposition of the buyer’s premium at auctions). Dealers as a group sounds more like an oxymoron for inaction. It can only come from some sort of dealer consolidation, where many can be spoken for by one dealer, both in policy and operation. Perhaps that is an evolutionary thought for my industry, but how else will it ultimately survive?
For the last several months, I have heard from so many dealers that having a physical storefront is not particularly relished any more. An incredible number of venerable and well stocked firms have made the decision not to renew a lease or are looking for an exit from the business. And this is on top of an industry that has contracted significantly in the last 10 years. Adding fire to the situation, The New York Times noted in an article on affluence that every major category of wealth spending rose considerably, but furniture fell 16%, yes 16%.
But somehow, I think Newel will survive this present state of the industry like it has always survived; it will go on with what it does best but with a vision of doing it even better. For years we have been busting out of our building and it has been a major constraint on our growth. Walk-ins can be great (and scarce) but a presence on the Internet is worth that price.
Later this year, we are planning to move our business to a new destination; the third in our history, Long Island City. Yes, it is across the river from where we are now, but it is closer than you think and will make Newel bigger and better. We’re going, going, gone; across the river into an exciting new channel of our future.