Some people hear it all the time: “You’ve gotta write a book.”
Few, however, are willing and ambitious enough to follow up. Add Carl Patrick Smith to that category.
Smith self-published 383 pages of wit and wisdom by documenting 30 years in the antiques trade. His book, What the Hell – Now What??!!, describes his earthy philosophy on life as learned from building a brick-and-mortar business from scratch. That business, Antiques Liquidator Global, is now the size of an elementary school and serves as the Pacific Northwest’s largest source of European and American antique furniture.
Smith delights in telling stories about his biggest source of humor and frustration: customers. Take the story of a mother/daughter team who repeatedly trash-talked Smith’s merchandise and his prices in “a relentless assault of negativism.”
The women were so loud and so crass they caused a scene in front of other shoppers during the busiest shopping time of the week. Twice Smith sold quality items below cost just to get the women to leave the store peacefully. Then it hit him: He had just been scammed by the two best barterers on Earth. Smith planned his future encounter with the women for more than a month. When they finally returned to the shop, Smith fought fire with fire and the ladies never returned again.
The book is written in a breezy, often conversational, tone. Without an editor or chapters, Smith’s story flows like a year’s worth of blog entries. The result is touching and funny. Recently, Smith took some time to discuss his book with us.
Antique Trader: How did your family manage to put up with your antiques business for 30 years? Your wife must be a saint.
Smith: Well, as a young man, who had just gotten himself married, I kind of thought that I could hang around my new wife’s apartment watching TV and drink a few beers. I suddenly found out that she expected me to go out and get a job or something else – as there was rent to pay, plus utilities, car payments, car insurance, medical dental bills, food and a beer bill. Also, I had heard rumors that young beautiful women want babies, which was news to me.
Out of absolute fear I opted to try something else and not a job. That something else was the secondhand and antiques business. My family managed to put up with me in the antiques business because there is truth in rumors – she actually did get pregnant, and I had bills to pay.
Soon there was even a mortgage payment. However, my wife did eliminate one bill entirely – my beer bill. Also, the statement “your wife must be a saint.” Well, I think my wife did a hell of a job in raising my son as well as myself. I think she did a better job on my son as I had come a little tattered.
I hope that the new Pope hears about her and at least gives her an honorary sainthood degree. God knows, she deserves it.
AT: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your business in the last 10 years?
Smith: The Internet. It is like getting a new baby brother or sister when you are a small child. You can’t fight the new brother or sister for attention, you just go along with it, and learn to work the system and all the changes that the Internet has brought to the antique industry.
With a new baby brother or sister, it is best that one embraces the situation and reaps the great rewards of love and affection rather than fight against it.
The Internet is one of the greatest tools for our type of industry. I have signs in my store that state – “Recycle – Buy an antique.” The antiques business is the greatest “green” business on earth, and can we shout that out loud all over the world on the Internet?
AT: I found the most amusing stories in your book dealt with your interaction with customers over the years. What is your favorite encounter?
Smith: My favorite encounter has been with myself. Sweet suffering Jesus – I was so ill prepared to enter into business, and to deal with people and all the problems that have arisen. However, with a strong wife and a loving son, plus a few thousand customers, I have survived.
AT: What was the last time you wanted to get out of this business… and what was the experience that convinced you to stay?
Smith: It was this morning to be honest with you. I thought to myself, “I got to be out of my mind.” And yes, I am a little out of my mind. Yes, there are troubles, and yes, there are problems, but what excitement there is to go treasure hunting, what excitement to deal with people with like-minded thinking. What excitement there is in handling product that really has the hand of man on it.
What excitement there is in sharing your life with others.
I love this business so much. To be able to touch history, to touch culture, to touch the creative genius of the people that have gone before us. To gaze in wonderment at a piece of furniture that is made of old growth wood, and to see the art work of an old craftsman in creating a dresser, wardrobe, table or whatever.
You see, in anything you attempt to do in life there will be shortcomings in it. And most of the shortcomings will be within our own selves. Even in heaven there will be a little bit of hell.
The concept of life is to find and to have a purpose. Then to fulfill that purpose the best way that we can.
Smith’s book, What the Hell – Now What??!!, is available for $8.95 by calling 206-623 2740 or by contacting Smith at Antique Liquidators, 503 Westlake N., Seattle, WA 98109. Antique Liquidators Global can be found at www.antiqueliquidatorsglobal.com.