Country returns to St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – When promoters Don Orwig and Gerry Nagel of Willowrush Promotions began looking for dealers to participate in the first Missouri Heritage Americana Antique Show, the cynics were out in force.
“We had people tell us we were blooming nuts,” said Orwig. “You simply can’t sell country in St. Louis. But right now I see it like a ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you build it, they will come.”

Although the “Meet Me in St. Louis Antique Show” held in September has had success, it’s been several years since a good country show has called the Gateway City home. But according to Orwig, it’s not necessarily because St. Louis is a big decorative arts market. He said he believes the previous shows became diluted.

“From what I’ve been told, they started out as wonderful country shows and remained so for 10 to 20 years,” he explained. “But when they needed to replace a dealer, the promoters didn’t look for a good country dealer. They took whoever was available. The result was that the quality and complexion of the shows changed. They just weren’t country shows anymore. But we like this area and the dealers need a summer show. We think it could do well.”

No one is more certain of this than John Stevens and Herb Propst of JHP Quilts and Antiques. Residents of Farmington, Mo., they remember successful country shows in the St. Louis area and still maintain a healthy client base there.

“St. Louis had wonderful American country antique shows at one time. What’s more, the St. Louis market supported those shows,” said Stevens. “A lot of dealers participating in this one used to do shows in St. Louis and remember the kinds of people who came. I firmly believe there’s a big market for it.”

Stevens added that the quality of the antiques displayed at the show certainly made an impression on those attending.

“It’s a very beautiful show with some of the finest quality that I’ve ever seen,” he says. “And it’s priced well. So we’re very, very excited. Our hope is that this will start bringing people back.”

Held at the Greensfelder Recreation Complex in Queeny Park, the show consisted of 71 of the nation’s finest Americana dealers. Among the dealers were Charlie and Karen Buckingham from Burleson, Texas, along with Tom and Rose Cheap from Scottsburg, Ind., who brought early first-surface painted furniture, pantry boxes, firkins and quilts. The Van Deests from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offered a recently purchased collection of American folk art, and Ted Fuehr of American Spirit Antiques in Shawnee Mission, Kan., was there with an impressive collection of tiger maple furniture.

“We never cast a net for dealers looking for just anybody to participate because we wanted to maintain the show’s integrity,” said Orwig. “And we intentionally went for a variety of dealers with a wide range of prices and merchandise because not everyone’s looking for a $10,000 secretary. I think we did very well.”

The show ran from June 17-18 with a preview on June 16 benefiting the local PBS station, KETC-Channel 9. Kay Porter, KETC’s proposal and grants specialist, said she believes the show will catch on. “It’s the first time Willowrush has produced a show for the St. Louis market, so this is kind of a learning experience for all of us. But it’s a great show and we’re very optimistic,” she said. “And being the first show, I think there’s so much more to it than people realize. It’s an incredible mix. I know there are people who will be thrilled with this show and in time word of mouth will bring them in.”

Despite competition from an annual swim meet at the same location and Father’s Day celebrations, about 1,000 people attended the event. Although the crowds were not as large as hoped, the general consensus was that the show has potential.

“Sure, attendance isn’t what we’d like it to be and my sales were a little disappointing,” said Jane Langol from Medina, Ohio. “Still, I’ve seen dealers around me doing well and I think the show was well worth coming to. It’s been well received and customer after customer has told me they’ve not seen a show of such quality here. One even said she was going home to get some of her friends to come. So I think word of mouth is going to make a big difference and next year attendance will be much better.”

Dealers Judith and Scott Keefer of    Flo-Blue Shoppe in Beverly Hills, Mich., did exceptionally well with their booth.

“I’m extremely pleased,” said Judith Keefer. “The quality at the show is so consistently high that I think the public is going to react even better next year. It’s comparable to the Nashville shows we do. Plus the public is very enthusiastic and seem extremely pleased. I definitely think St. Louis is ready for this.”

Scott Keefer added that not only did they have a steady stream of people coming in and out of their booth, but many were brand new clients.

“So I’d say we did pretty well,” he said. “And I think the majority of the people and the dealers will come back. It’s one of the better looking Americana shows that we’ve done in a very long time.”

Customers Carol LeBeque of Chesterfield, Mo., and Linda Clicker of Florissant, Mo., agreed.

“It’s wonderful,” said LeBeque. “We really like primitive and we like folk art. And everything here is of such high quality. So much has caught my eye, especially the weather vanes.”

“The displays are just beautiful,” Clicker added. “I think more people will be attending next year. And I hope it’s successful and they do come back. I definitely will.”

Maggie Rinkel, a dealer with a shop in nearby Eureka, Mo., said it’s important to have a show of this caliber in St. Louis.

“There are a lot of people in the area who want this,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to come. And believe me, I’ll be making some phone calls to get people out here. It’s very exciting and I really hope they come back next year. I think that people will support it.”

Orwig said they’re already making plans for next year, moving the date up a week earlier to avoid competing with other functions.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about this show from the customers,” he said. “Of course, not every dealer sold a whole lot. But every show was a first show. You have to start someplace. I believe most of the dealers think we have something to build on. Some have already asked me to send them a contract for next year. So, I’m really pleased with the way things turned out.”

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