By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader
While Denver is the Mile-High City, its status as an antiques destination is not generally considered to be so lofty. Nevertheless, travelers to Colorado will find ample opportunities for antiquing any time of the year.
A widely known concentration of dealers is Denver’s Antique Row. Scores of shops are located along a 14-block stretch of South Broadway. One of the best-known stores is Antique Center on Broadway, 1235 S. Broadway, owned by Janet Barker and Sharon Trujillo. The multidealer gallery has a wide array of American and European antiques presented by 14 vendors. Trujillo said business has been rather slow in recent months, “but we’re hoping it gets better all the time.”
On July 14-16, Trujillo and Barker will be among 150 exhibitors at the World Wide Antique Show at the Denver Merchandise Mart. The semiannual three-day event, now in its 45th year, is considered the premier antique show in the state.
The show’s manager, Christine Guedea, said the March edition traditionally draws the largest crowds, while the October show has the most dealers. “The July show has competition from many summer attractions in the state, but we have an air-conditioned facility,” said Guedea. Many longtime antique dealers comprise the field of approximately 140 exhibitors, who present a diverse selection of antiques and collectibles from around the world.
Among Colorado’s newest summer attractions is the Rocky Mountain Antique Festival at Beaver Creek Village, which will present its second annual show July 21-23. Event coordinator Sarah Franke said she and show manager Brian Nolan have handpicked 40 top dealers from around the country to exhibit their antiques for the show. One-fourth of the dealers will set up in the Vilar Center for the Arts, while the rest will be outdoors on the village plaza. Beaver Creek is located near Vail, about 100 miles west of Denver.
Denver is a competitive auction market. After attending Reisch Auction School in Iowa, Joseph G. Priddy became a licensed auctioneer in 1974, and has been selling ever since. He founded Priddy Auction Galleries Inc. in Denver in 1993 and has risen to national prominence.
Last year was especially big for Priddy, as he landed a knockout collection of Joe Louis boxing memorabilia that once belonged to the late heavyweight champion. Already this year he has sold a Frank Earl Schoonover painting of a cowboy with an American flag for $48,000.
Priddy’s wife, Mary Elaine, is vice president of the company. Lending a hand are their 12-year-old son Joseph, Priddy’s sister, Denise, and their mother, Esther.
Priddy conducts two to three sales per month at his auction house in the up-scale South Hilltop neighborhood of Denver. “It’s a big timber-beam structure that looks like a ski lodge with 35-foot ceilings and big windows in the front,” said Priddy.
Auctioneer George Ferrell heeded Horace Greeley’s age-old advice to go west, moving from Kansas City, Mo., to Loveland, Colo., 12 years ago. “I like the climate and the location. It’s centrally located and you can get people from the East and West Coast to home here,” said Ferrell.
Because he realizes customers are reluctant to travel cross country if they are interested in only one or two items, all of Ferrell’s sales also include Internet live bidding through eBay Live Auctions. “All I deal in is high-end antiques,” said Ferrell, “Belter, Meeks, Horner, Roux – all the good, ‘name’ stuff.”
Ferrell said customers can expect a clean and bright auction house that is climate controlled, has comfortable seating and ample parking. Ferrell conducts only three auctions per year. The next event will be held Nov. 4-5.
Also located in Loveland is Bean & Bean Auction Co. Founded by brothers Brian and Mike Bean in 1994, the full-service auction company conducts antique sales the third Sunday of each month at the 12,000-square-foot facility in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
“I think the antique business has become more challenging every year for the last eight or nine years,” said Brian Bean. “With the evolution of eBay everything has changed in the business. The rare stuff just gets better and brings more and more money, and the common stuff is a tougher market. The best stuff always seems to go up and up.”
The Beans have implemented live Internet bidding at several of their auctions, but Brian said it is not to his liking. “I’m just more people-oriented. The lack of contact is probably what makes the Internet trade uninteresting to me. I prefer to do business face to face,” he said.
Auctioneer Tad Bickley was part owner of Ross Auction in Colorado Springs, the state’s oldest auction company, founded in 1921, before founding Best of the West Auctions two years ago, specializing in fine art, antiques and high-end estates. “In house right now we have the Charles Bunnell estate, who was one of Colorado’s more important artists. We also have the estate of Verna Versa, another Broadmoor Academy artist,” said Bickley. A toy and train collection of up to 10,000 items will take four auctions to disperse later this year, he said.
Bickley takes his Best of the West Auctions to Great Falls, Mont., every March to an event celebrating the birthday of Western artist Charles M. Russell. Bickley also conducts estate tag sales in Aspen, “where people’s time is too valuable to sit six hours at an auction,” he said.
Also located in Colorado Springs is Legend Antiques, a major importer of European antiques. The firm’s president, Mark C. Warzecha, travels primarily to France, Belgium, Holland and Germany to hand-pick the inventory for his 21,000-square-foot showroom located just west of downtown.
“We bring in container shipments of 300 pieces every three to four weeks. We sell 3,000 to 4,000 pieces per year … furnishings, clocks, lighting and artwork,” said Warzecha.
While 90 percent of his sales are wholesale to the antiques trade, Warzecha said Legend Antiques offers retail buyers advantages not found at traditional antique shops. “Because we have more than 20,000 square feet, we’re able to offer quantity and variety, and everything has been restored and is in showroom-ready condition,” said Warzecha. Also actively involved in the business is his wife and company vice president, Roxy, and their daughter, Heather.
Ski Country Antiques in Evergreen, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs imports merchandise from 15 countries, but specializes in high-end cabin, lodge and mountain chalet furnishings. “We have probably the largest collection of skis for sale in the country. The same goes for snowshoes and sleds,” said Brian Kleinwachter, who owns and operates Ski Country Antiques with his brother, Eric, and sister, Jody.
An attraction at their Evergreen location is the Colorado Winter Sports Museum, which they founded in 2002. “It’s not a money generator; just a way for us to show our winter sports collection … all the unique things we’ve acquired,” said Kleinwachter.
Beyond the Continental Divide is Colorado’s Western Slope, a vast region where antique shops can be found in almost every community. Little Bear Antique Mall, owned by Harvey and Nancy Gilmore, has been a popular store in the Glenwood Springs area since the mid-1990s. The couple recently opened Little Bear Antiques in Aspen. The mall’s location between Vail and Aspen — 90 minutes from Grand Junction — has contributed to their success.
“There’s not a great population base over here. When you put something good together on this side of the mountains, a lot of people hear about it and they’ll support it,” said Harvey Gilmore. “Our clientele is very discriminating. We have to keep the quality of our goods up.”
Little Bear’s inventory offers everything from early American to European and Asian antiques and art, said Gilmore. The mall is located on the southern outskirts of Glenwood Springs, one block away from Colorado Highway 82.
Barbara Felix opened Antiques On the Avenue, a multidealer shop on North Avenue in Grand Junction, in February 2004. She insisted prospective vendors carry only high-quality items from the 1950s or older – definitely no junk. Some thought she wouldn’t succeed with such an inflexible policy in place, but Felix’s instincts proved to be right. “When word got out that I wanted to make this a true antique store, I didn’t have any trouble with vendors. Those who came in knew exactly what I wanted,” said Felix.
To boost interest in her store, Felix has a local collector present a lecture on his or her specialty on the second Saturday of every month. “I have a showcase they can display some of their items in for a month before the lecture,” said Felix. Presentations have included purses, textiles, jewelry, Depression glass, Christmas ornaments and an unusual Thief of Baghdad collection.
“In May we had a lady talk about how high tea started and the use of a tea set. Then,” Felix added, “we had high tea!”
High rental rates in Telluride prompted Julie Hyatt to close her small antique mall in the tiny resort town. She and her husband, David, recently purchased Lady Anne’s Antiques in Cedaredge, a community of 1,800 on the southern slope of the Grand Mesa. They plan to stock everything from furniture, fine china and old prints to camping gear.
“We’re in a farmhouse built in 1917,” said Julie. “Cedaredge has a nice main street. It’s a nice place to come and have lunch. It’s a little cooler here because we’re at 6,100 feet.”