Stella shows are feeling January chill

NEW YORK – “Americana Week” in January is synonymous with this city, as are the names of the shows: the Winter Show, the American Antique Show, Antiques at the Armory and Americana at the Piers.

This coming January, however, the week that many in the business view as the touchstone by which the rest of the year is judged will be missing one of those important names, while another one is operating under a cloud.

The kicker is that both shows are operated by Stella Show Management, one of the best-known operators in the business. Americana at the Piers, according to Irene Stella, is for all intents and purposes considered dead for January 2008 due to construction and time constraints at the piers, while Antiques at the Armory could be told at any moment that the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington and 26th Street is needed by soldiers preparing for a quick deployment to Afghanistan.

Stella, however, is sanguine about the prospects for her company’s January events, and emphasizes that the rest of the year’s pier shows are all still a go.

“There’s a 2 percent chance (the New York City Economic Development Corp.) will come to us and say you have the piers,” she told Antique Trader. “We’re simply hoping for the best.”

Americana at the Piers is a well-established and well-attended part of January Americana Week in New York, and a longstanding feature at the piers. The problem stems from construction at the site, cost overruns and pressure from the cruise lines that operate their massive boats at piers 88-90, the same ones that Stella has traditionally used for its shows.

The New York City EDC had originally said that it intended to honor contracts that had already been signed, even if they conflicted with the construction schedule. Stella, however, had yet to sign a contract despite being a constant at the piers every year. When it came down to it, the EDC was not willing to back off on its plans. Stella was officially out of its January slot.

“We did a lot of compromising with the EDC, who made this decision,” Stella said. “We understand where they’re coming from. Even though we’ve been there so long (23 years), and made longstanding dates far into the future, we weren’t pushing for the contracts right away.”

Besides taking it in stride, Stella and her company are looking into other ways to make lemonade out of the lemons dealt one of their most important shows by the EDC. One option is a second, smaller space, which Stella was not able to reveal at the time of this interview, due to ongoing negotiations.

The secondary space would mean fewer dealers than at the piers, and is also contingent upon the 69th Regiment Armory being available for the Antiques at the Armory show.

“We’re up against the Army,” Stella said. “It’s their building and they can use it whenever they need to. The soldiers don’t know when they’ll need to deploy, so we don’t know for sure.”

As of this writing, Stella said she was 80 percent sure that there would be no problem with getting that space for the Americana Week dates. As long as the armory show is good to go in its regular space, then the as-yet-unnamed secondary space could potentially take a little less than half of the Pier dealers who now find themselves without a space during Americana Week.

The uncertainty has left Stella’s dealers a little unnerved, especially considering how important the potential revenue of the shows are to their bottom lines. As for Stella, the company and its namesake are doing their best to reassure dealers and to make the best of the situation. Without concrete answers, however, there is no way to make concrete plans.

Stella did tell Antique Trader that she had received positive news concerning the March 2008 Piers Show.

“I just received an e-mail this morning,” she said, “saying that we were all set for the March show, which is good news I feel confident relaying.”

Antique Trader did try to reach Economic Development Corp. President Robert Lieber for comment, but as of this writing he has not responded.

Concerned dealers and patrons are urged to lobby the agency at 212-619-5000. Stella Show Management may be contacted at 212-255-0020, or online at www.stellashows.com.

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