In the Trade
Dave and Debbie Guile’s group shop in Little Falls, New York, doesn’t appear to be all that remarkable. Their Showcase Antiques of CNY, which stands for Central New York, has about 100 brightly lit cases and 26 booth spaces. It has a pleasant variety of merchandise, with lots of smalls and a mix of furniture—some country, some miscellaneous, even some golden oak. What makes this group shop remarkable is that the Guiles launched the venture two years ago in the face of a market that, for years, has seen multi-dealer shops withering similar to autumn leaves. And those that have survived often feel tired, stale, and out of date.
Dave said, “We wanted to do this for a long time,” and the couple didn’t let the depressed state of the market dissuade them. “I’m probably the biggest nonconformist. I go against the grain.”
The Guiles are Little Falls natives and know their market. Upstate New York is still filled with lots of dealers who are not looking to be big shots. They do small shows such as the ones in Schoharie or Cooperstown. A large percentage of them deal part time. Often, at least one spouse has a real job. Many are retired. For several years we’ve been hearing that the market for “ordinary” antiques is moribund, but that’s not necessarily the case here. These folks love what they do, and they’re not going to stop just because some people say the antiques market is dead. They will recognize a masterpiece if it happens to surface, but mostly they continue to sell what they’ve sold for decades.
Dave and Debbie Guile.
Showcase Antiques. The Erie Canal is just down the street.
One of the shop’s aisles. “Dave always liked showcases,” Debbie said.
“This is sort of a rustic area,” Dave said. “This is farm country. You bring in milk cans and farm lanterns. Young people like trunks and things like that. I know where we live, and I know we’re not going to have lots of stuff for thousands of dollars.” And, although the shop does have the occasional item priced in the thousands, Debbie’s computer tells them that they sell an awful lot of stuff for $15 to $30.
Showcase Antiques of CNY embodies that philosophy. It’s a clean, well-lit place. There’s nothing chic or fancy about it. It’s housed in a former machine shop in an area called Canal Place between U.S. Route 5 and the Erie Canal. The area has a few restored mill buildings and some working industrial operations as well. The place includes amenities that anyone who’s been on the road for hours will appreciate. The large, clean, attractive bathroom would probably top the list. It’s prominently marked “Unisex Restroom.” The Guiles even stock it with items for sale. “The bathroom is really important,” Debbie said. “You don’t want to come into a place and see ‘Employees only’ on the door.”
She also has a little table up front next to the complimentary coffee machine. “That’s where the husband can sit while the wife shops,” she said. As we said, old ways persist up here.
These things clearly make a difference. The Guiles opened the doors, and dealers showed up to rent space. Debbie recalled opening in June 2015. “We had about twenty dealers and started collecting rent by August first.” Today, according to Debbie, “We have about eighty dealers. We go up a little and go down a little, a couple here and there.”
The white showcases are 6' x 4' with three or four glass shelves and interior lighting. Most of the cases are rented. Dave said, “When a case goes empty, I’ll put stuff in it. I find fresh stuff all the time.” Case rents, said Debbie, “average about two dollars a day.” There’s usually a three-month agreement and then it’s month-to-month after that with a 30-day notice clause that applies to both sides. Booth spaces—approximately 8' x 10'—rent for $125 a month. “There’s a waiting list for floor space all the time,” she said.
The Guiles do layaways. This set of shelves is full of them.
A welcome sight in an antiques center. “We sell stuff that we put in there. People come out with stuff,” Dave said.
Chinese jade censer, $3800. Colony Shop, Fayetteville, New York.
The shop’s website sums up what the Guiles are looking for: “No reproductions, nothing dirty, grimey, garage saley or flea market.” They welcome vintage goods, along with antiques. Their cutoff date is 1975. “Nothing with bar codes,” said Dave. “They came in in 1977.”
Advertising items are particularly popular. “When we have big signs on the wall, we can’t keep them in stock,” Debbie said. “We have a couple of guys who specialize in Beech-Nut [which for generations was located in Canajoharie 20 miles to the east]. And we sell a lot of Utica advertising.” Utica, 20 miles to the west, is known for its brewing and stoneware industries. “Furniture is a little soft. More people seem to be buying smalls,” she added.
As one might expect, dealers account for the major portion of sales. “Eighty percent of our buyers are dealers. In wintertime, dealers are what keeps us going,” Dave said. To illustrate this point, Debbie held her hand several inches above the tabletop and said, “I’ve got a stack of filled-out resale certificates this high.”
Summer is tourist time in the pastoral Mohawk Valley. During summertime, Debbie said, “Tourist traffic is terrific. People who stay at the Travel Lodge, which is just in town over Route Five, say, ‘We looked out the window and saw your sign.’ They especially are looking for smalls.” And, of course, aside from tourists, there are the collectors. “Collectors come in more than anybody else,” she said. “Probably twenty come in once a week. There’s a sign guy, a Lionel train guy,” and so on.
Seats from a little four-lane bowling alley in Dolgeville, New York, $995.
You might have trouble selling Danish art pottery up here, but colorful Pyrex in shades of pink, yellow, aqua, green, red, and brown is a hot item. “This is one thing that young people want. We sold a hundred bucks of it yesterday to a young girl who was into brown,” Dave said. Nested sets of bowls can be $85, but most items run between $15 and $40. Karen and Dave Kruppenbacher of Sprakers, New York.
A selection of period candlesticks. Left to right: early pricket, $650; pair of seamed brass, $350; cast brass, Heemskerk, $675; and footed brass, circa 1740, $235. Hank Laman of Hedgerow Antiques, Waverly, New York.
In today’s less than robust market, paying attention to the needs of the dealers is clearly an important part of running a group shop. The Guiles, for example, will restock a case as items sell if back-up stock items are left for them to do so. Also, Debbie’s monthly statements to dealers feature a short newsletter that includes a want list of items that customers are looking for. Dave provided an example. “We have a lot of Chinese people looking for jade. One of our dealers read the notes and brought a lot of jade in.” On the day we visited, Dave was waiting for a potential buyer who had been notified that the dealer had brought in a piece of which he was particularly proud.
The monthly statement includes information on upcoming events that draw extra tourists to town. This encourages dealers to freshen their displays. “We’ve got a cheese festival in July, a canal celebration in August, a garlic festival in September and [a festival called] Christmas in Little Falls in December,” Debbie said. “As part of their month-end statements we always include total sales in the shop.” This allows dealers to get a sense of how business in general is doing and how their sales look in comparison.
Sales figures are current to the minute. Dave said, “If a dealer calls in and asks ‘How am I doing?,’ it’s just push a button, and there it is. It’s all in real time.”
The Guiles charge just 3% for credit card sales. “We don’t make any money on credit cards,” Debbie said.
From a dealer’s point of view, it also helps that the business is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for the most major of holidays. Visitors don’t have to remember, “Is this the day they’re closed?” Debbie said, “On major holidays we’re closed, but for the last two years we came in Memorial Day and Labor Day. We work weird hours.”
As with other businesses, the big push for Christmas sales begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving. “We start reminding the dealers in October,” Debbie said. They erect a 10' tree just inside the front door, and the dealers decorate it with antique ornaments that are for sale. “The dealer who sells the most gets a hundred dollars in scratch-offs,” Debbie said. Customers who buy ornaments get a ticket for each one they purchase. Each ticket is an entry into a drawing for a $25 gift certificate. This may not seem like a big deal, but as Dave said, “We call the people on Christmas Eve, and they get really excited.” The shop provides free gift wrapping during the holiday season, and dealers volunteer to come in to do the wrapping.
Christmas shopping isn’t confined to the holiday season. On the day we visited in late September a couple was piling up Christmas gifts on the counter. It turns out that they are in New Zealand during Christmas and do their holiday shopping early. “They did the same thing last year,” Debbie said.
Three beautiful Taxco silver bracelets. Left, $215; center, $325; right, $325. There were four more in the case. Jean Turner of Florida.
A turn-of-the-century quilt with the names of organizations and families stitched in each square. Debbie thinks it was made as a fundraiser. All stitching is executed in red except for the DAR square (bottom left), which is done in red and blue. “These are all names we recognize. They’re all old Little Falls people,” Debbie said. There are 30 squares in all, each measuring a foot square. It’s approximately 60" x 70" and is priced at $1250.
Selection of early wines, all under $50. Nobody may care about this sort of thing anymore, but it’s nice to come across a dealer who has assembled a grouping like this. Barbara Talasco of Loudonville, New York.
The Guiles have learned that you don’t sign up every dealer who comes through the door. “We grill them,” Dave said. They are particularly careful with collectors who want to rent space. “We ask, ‘Are you a collector?’ Then we know you’re probably going to keep your best stuff at home, and collectors coming in will already have the stuff you bring in. What we’ve learned is what’s actually going out the door. We’ve got a good crew in now.” Dave estimated that only about 15 of the participating dealers might be considered active full-time pros. He particularly enjoys signing up retired folks. “They have the time to drive halfway across the state to tend their stuff,” he said.
The Guiles are also careful about taking on dealers who will duplicate what other specialists are selling. They don’t want to dilute the sales of someone who’s selling well. Dave cited jewelry as a case in point. “I’ve got four or five people in here who do jewelry. We don’t let another jewelry dealer in; we don’t want to cut off the jewelry dealers we have.”
Some things they just won’t take. “You can’t make any money filling a case with Depression glass,” he said.
They accept some consignments. “If I feel we can sell it, I’ll take it in. We give them three months,” Dave said. They also do occasional short-term rentals, and he gave an example. “Sometimes people with parents who have passed away, they take a case for a couple of months to sell off some stuff.”
The Guiles moved from Little Falls to Arizona when they were in their early 20s but didn’t stay long. Speaking about Dave, Debbie said, “He wasn’t particularly happy in Arizona.” They heard through a friend that a bar at the main intersection in Little Falls was for sale. They came back and bought it in 1984. It was named the Happen Inn, and they owned it until 2001. The bar led to Dave’s interest in antiques, as he told us. “When we opened up the bar, I went with a friend to get restaurant equipment at an auction, and people were buying junk. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘We’re buying antiques.’”
In the meantime, the Guiles had bought a seafood takeout restaurant called Crabby’s in 1996. “We had two hundred items on the menu, and I cooked them all.” Dave said. That’s hard work. Debbie said, “Dave had a health scare in 2011.” They decided it was time for a less stressful business, and an antiques center seemed to fit the bill.
Earlier they had taken space in a multi-dealer shop in nearby Dolgeville, where the famous Adirondack baseball bats are made. Debbie said, “We would see all the weaknesses, and we’d say, ‘We should run it for them.’” That didn’t happen, and the place subsequently folded. Instead, the Guiles found this old machine shop and went to work. They promoted it the way antiques show promoters have always recruited for their shows. They visited upstate shows such as Schoharie and Syracuse and gave out cards.
“We wanted something we could do into our seventies,” Debbie said. So far, it appears, they’ve found it.
For information contact Showcase Antiques of CNY, 375 Canal Place, Little Falls, NY 13365; phone (315) 823-1177; open daily (except for major holidays) 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; website (www.showcaseantiquesofcny.com).
Originally published in the December 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest