Husband and wife buck the trend and open Collectors Corner antiques mall

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WILMETTE, Ill. — Steve and Donna Strelitz have been in the antique business for 35 years, so they are well aware that some shows have been cancelled, antique stores are not all doing well, and the auction sales of antiques are at times reported to be “soft.”

So when asked why they chose to open an antiques mall in the current economic climate, their response was simple: “We don’t want to give it up! Our life work has been in this field and we have been looking for an appropriate spot for two years.”

Their new mall is called “Collectors Corner” and it is at the corner of Ridge and Lake Avenues, two very busy streets in Wilmette, Ill. The Strelitzes are experienced in the mall business. They had a mall in Oak Park, Ill., for 10 years, until they lost their lease two years ago and have been looking for “just the right spot” since then. Collectors Corner hosted a soft opening Sept. 19; a grand opening is scheduled for mid-November.

Their search for the perfect location turned out to be a challenge. Their two year search was concluded when they located a beautiful building, constructed in 1907, with decorative façade and turret over the front entrance. The area around the mall has many lovely shops and Wilmette is a prestigious, North Shore suburb of Chicago. The inside space consists of six separate rooms with an additional larger open space for showcases.

Within a few blocks of Collectors Corner are five antique shops, a clock repair business, and a restoration shop for damaged fine art and paintings. Asked if all that competition presented problems, they said, “We’re not the least bit worried! We want to work with others who deal with antiques to promote our area as an ‘Antique Row.’ That will benefit us all.”

They also plan to display items in a somewhat unconventional manner, which will help the mall be more distinct. Several of the rooms will be set up with furniture, artwork and decorative items much as it would look when placed in a quality home. The intent is that this will help decorators or buyers visualize items more easily.

The ceilings of the whole mall have also been rented out, so it is full of elegant chandeliers. The ceilings have been modernized and lowered from the original 1907 construction. To basically preserve the integrity of the building, the old tin ceilings remain intact, although mostly hidden because of the newer dropped ceilings.

Locating the space was difficult, but finding dealers to utilize the space was easy. There were many requests, but the challenge was to select dealers whose inventories would present a variety of material and a high level of quality. All openings are now filled, and a waiting list has been established.

The Strelitzes intend to make their mall “very customer friendly.” They will not close up for the day if a customer is still looking at items. “Above all, we want customers to know that we are friendly, honest and fair in prices.” The mix of items will be “approximately” 90 percent antique (over 50 years old), while newer items, such as collectibles, will be permitted but must be identified as “newer.” If an item is misrepresented, it will be called to the dealer’s attention and corrected.

A strong, local marketing strategy is being developed. Local newspapers are being used at present and a website is being developed. The hope is that all the antique related shops in the area can combine their marketing so a customer could spend a fun day looking at several shops on Wilmette’s “Antique Row.”

Prior to opening, dealers were bringing in their wares and checking out what other were displaying. Barbara Stanley, of Barbara’s Antiques, has been a dealer for six years and brought in a variety of items including small furniture, glassware and porcelain. When asked why she wanted to be in this mall, her responses were, “It’s what I love … I’m excited to be here … the location is fabulous!”

Another long-time dealer showing in the mall is Rick Porte, of Porte Galleries. He indicated three reasons for wanting to be included: “Location, location, and location.”
He pointed out that it is located in an upper middle income, well-established area, and in a newly decorated building. He added that he thought “the space has been utilized in a well-planned manner and is visually attractive.”

A preview of items showed a large variety. A handsome stained glass window, 49 inches by 25 inches, hung in view from the street, was priced at $895. Above it hung a 1912 fixture, brass with four lights, which could light up a room for $769. A Staffordshire piece, Man on a Horse, was priced at $225, and near it was a solid burled walnut English tea caddy for $425. A gorgeous Old Paris vase was displayed for $425. At the entry was a large Italian jardinière with stand, Mid-century, priced at $250. One of the gems was a French Boulle clock, wood and brass, circa 1850, priced at $13,500.

Items from a few dollars for fun and gifts as well as those for the serious collector were seen in each area. The mall aims to appeal to all tastes and pocketbooks, the Strelitzes said.

For more information contact: Collectors Corner, 901 Ridge Rd., Wilmette, IL 60091-1559 or phone 847-256-1136 or fax: 847-256-1146. ?


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