Kentucky: Variety is the spice of antique trade

The area that is Kentucky was the legendary hunting grounds for Cherokee, Delaware, Shawnee and Wyandot tribes before the arrival of European settlers. Today the Bluegrass State is a hunting ground for a wide array of antiques and collectibles. The variety ranges from coin-silver mint julep cups crafted by early Kentucky silversmiths to souvenir Kentucky Derby glasses, and from handcrafted cherry furniture to painted primitive pieces.

To get a taste of the finer things offered in Kentucky, plan to attend the Louisville Antique Show Nov. 2-4. “It’s that typical Southern-flavored show — lots of brown wood and shiny, spiffy things. It’s an upscale show with Southern flair,” said Don Orwig of Willowrush Promotions, which took over management of the annual event last year. The change in management resulted in a higher-than-normal turnover in dealers. “They liked the changes we made. We brought in a lot of new faces,” said Orwig. The show benefits the Louisville Deaf Oral School, a preschool for hearing-impaired children. The preview party on Friday is a major social event in Louisville.

Another big event in Louisville is Stewart Promotions’ Kentucky Flea Market at the Kentucky Fair Expo Center. Of the 11 markets each year, the four-day Labor Day Spectacular and the four-day New Year’s Spectacular are the biggest. “For New Year’s we have more than 1,200 booths, which about half of them are antiques and collectible vendors. To get more than 600 or 700 antique booths all in the same spot — we have dealers coming from 20 states — is fairly rare,” said Terry Stewart, company president.

Stewart’s hobby of digging for antique bottles in the early 1970s prompted his parents, John and Nell Stewart, to start the Kentucky Flea Market. “Dad was always an entrepreneur. He said if I was going to keep bringing all this stuff home we’d have to find a way to sell it,” said Terry. Seeing the success of a large flea market in Nashville, the Stewarts started a similar market in Louisville in December 1973. Terry took over management of the company in 1977 when his parents retired.

Stewart said 2006 was an improvement over the previous year. “With eBay and the attrition of dealers, it’s been tough for a lot of shows, but for whatever reason it seems like it’s starting to pick back up going into 2007,” he said, adding, “There are still a lot of bargains in antiques and collectibles that aren’t on the Internet.”

Admission to the Kentucky Flea Market is free. The Kentucky Fair and Expo Center charges $5 for parking. The next show is. Feb. 2-4.
A major attraction open daily is Louisville Antique Mall, founded in 1983. Approximately 225 dealers rent space in the 1889 cotton mill, which stands on an entire block at 900 Goss Ave. After taking 12 years out of her professional career to raise her family, Denise Golden bought the mall in 1995. “I was looking for a business to purchase, and this came on the market,” said Golden, who had no previous experience in selling antiques. “I depended on the expertise of my dealers,” she said. Golden said 2006 was a good year for the mall. “Sales dropped off after 9/11, but I think people have in the last year or so come back to where they’re buying luxury items,” she said.

Rod Lich and his wife, Susan Parrett, reside in southern Indiana but manage three antique shows in Kentucky. The Locust Grove Antique Show on the last Sunday in June and September is held on the grounds of frontier leader George Rogers Clark’s home in Louisville. “Whether to buy antiques or to see a beautifully restored home and grounds, it’s a good place to visit,” said Lich. “The setup is casual because it’s all outdoors, but you’re more likely to find cherry and formal furniture and expensive quilts and coverlets at Locust Grove.” The show is in its 28th year and has100 exhibitors.

About 40 miles south of Louisville is Bardstown, the state’s second-oldest city. Here Lich and Parrett produce the annual Historic Bardstown Antique Show. The 40th annual show will be March 31 and April 1. Parrett and Lich purchased the Bardstown show in September 2004 from founders Don and Mary Ann Comer, but have not changed its chemistry. “There’s nothing we could do to make it better,” said Lich. With 100 dealers set up in the gymnasium and cafeteria of a local high school, the show is noted for diverse and affordable antiques and collectibles.
The fifth-annual Pleasant Hill Show and Sale, also managed by Lich and Parrett, will be June 16-17 at the restored Shaker village near Harrodsburg. Sixty to 70 dealers set up in tents in the center of the village. “There’s lots of Southern furniture, Kentucky furniture and a smattering of Shaker furniture … and other serious antiques,” said Lich.

Lich and Parrett have been buying and selling antiques for 30 years. “Susan and I consider ourselves primarily dealers who happen to manage antique shows in our own communities,” said Lich.

The area of northern Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati is experiencing rapid development. For the past 25 years the Boone County 4-H Fairground has been the home of the Burlington Antique Show, which is held the third Sunday of the month, April through October. Tony Pham took over management of the show from his father-in-law, Paul Kohls, three years ago.

“First, we try to maintain the standards and keep it antiques and vintage collectibles. We’re in a great location. The entire area is growing by leaps and bounds and we’re only 10 minutes from downtown Cincinnati,” said Pham. “The show has a whole family atmosphere. Bring the kids for a nice stroll around the fairground,” he said.

Pham said the Burlington show has from 250 to 300 dealers depending on weather conditions and competing shows in the region. Recent upgrades in the facilities have brought renewed interest from exhibitors. “Some dealers are calling back wanting to do the show again. They’ve come to the fairgrounds and have seen the changes for the better,” he said.

Early Auction Co., based in Milford, Ohio, conducts its major art glass auctions three times a year at the Sheraton Hotel at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Covington. Steven Early Sr. said the company’s two-day auction in October was their highest-grossing sale ever.

“There’s a definite softness in the antique market, but glass has held up well. Even some of the mid-range stuff was strong in October,” said Early, noting that Tiffany, Steuben and Quezal have remained strong. He said reproductions of Daum and Galle hurt that segment of the market and prices bottomed out around 2000. “Today we’re seeing a resurgence in French glass,” said Early.

Steve’s late father, Roger Early, started holding art glass auctions in the 1960s, and now it is the company’s primary focus. Steve’s wife, Paula, and their children, Sarah and Steve Jr., are all active in the family business.
Mike and Coleen Detzel spent a year looking for a prime location to open an antique mall in northern Kentucky. They picked a former department store in Florence, 10 miles south of Cincinnati and close to I-75. “We figured it might be a good fit in this area because there wasn’t anything of that scale,” said Mike. The showroom is about 50,000 square feet, well lit, and has wide aisles. It has about 200 display cases in addition to floor spaces, all on one level.

Detzel said the mall had a strong, stable 2006. “We’ve been in the business long enough now that people simply know who we are, and that seems to generate steady repeat business,” he said. Coleen has many contacts in the trade, having bought and sold for about 10 years before outgrowing her home-based business.

The Detzels launched the Northern Kentucky Antiques Market on the fourth Sunday of the month, May through September. Set up outside the store in the parking lot, the small market attracted 750 to 1,000 customers each date. A $1 admission fee helped offset advertising, said Detzel.
“People who li ke the mall spill out into the market and vice versa. Every time we’ve done a show the sales in the mall on average for that show day are double what they are for other Sundays in the year,” said Detzel.
Georgetown, about 20 miles north of Lexington, has long been known for antiques. Joann Sharpe has owned and operated Georgetown Antique Mall. at 124 W. Main St.. for 32 years. “Folks used to call me the mother of all antique malls,” said Sharpe.

Georgetown Antique Mall consists of two downtown buildings with about 100 booth spaces on four levels. “We have a lot of good things and a lot of insignificant things. There is a good variety and our prices are affordable,” said Sharpe. “Georgetown is a beautiful town with many historic buildings and a beautiful downtown. People will enjoy the town as well as our mall,” she said.

Another historic town with its share of antique stores is Franklin, located seven miles from the Tennessee border and 35 miles north of Nashville, Tenn. Bright’s Antique World, 283 Steele Road, opened in January 2003. Located along I-65, the antique mall has about 85 dealers in a modern building, which has 24,000 square feet of display space.

“It’s been a great increase in sales every year,” said Riley Bright, who owns and operates the antique mall with his wife, Linda. He attributes the store’s success to their insistence on high quality. “We’re a true antique mall. Ninety-nine percent of our stuff is antiques. We have a huge selection of furniture and all kinds of Fenton and Fostoria glass,” he said.

Riley and Linda Bright have been in the music business for many years. “We had a band called the Prairie Dogs for quite a while,” said Riley. “This (antique mall) was supposed to be a hobby, but it’s turned into a big hobby,” said Bright.

Just north of Franklin on U.S. 31 (5945 Bowling Green Road) is Strictly Country Antique Mall, which owner Cindy Burk opened 24 years ago at Triple Pine Farm. “We’re known for early country furniture and small accessories,” said Burk, who said her dealers must meet high-quality standards before they can rent space at her mall. “I think that’s what has kept us in business for so long,” she said.

Burk recommends visiting Franklin for a day of antique shopping. “Kenny Perry’s Country Creek Golf Club is here. A lot of times the men play golf while the women go antiquing,” said Burk. Perry, born in Elizabethtown, is a veteran on the PGA tour.

Kentucky, synonymous with thoroughbreds, is also known for horsepower or another sort. Chevrolet Corvette sports cars have been manufactured at the GM assembly plant in Bowling Green since 1981. Vette City Antique Mall, 778 Interstate Drive, is located between the auto plant and the National Corvette Museum. Evon Hymer opened the antique mall in a new building five years ago with the intention of part of it being a flea market open three days a week. “When the antique side filled up, we had enough people wanting space that  it outweighed the flea-market business. We just turned it all over to antiques and are open seven days a week,” she said.
The climate-controlled building has 250 dealer spaces. “We do have some of the newer stuff that’s collectible, like Precious Moments and Beanie Babies,” said Hymer.

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader