A winter storm that blanketed Ohio with snow and ice delayed Robert Havrilak’s drive home from a buying trip by 24 hours was nothing to fret about. An inconvenience such as icy roads is all in a day’s work for the Cape May, N.J., antique dealer. Since Havrilak has been preparing six months for Atlantique City, the world’s largest art, antiques and collectibles market, an extra day spent on acquiring a prized piece is worth the extra effort and expense.
“I pride myself on looking for and finding the best, and we do quite well in that respect,” said Havrilak, who partners with his fiance, Kim Engle. Havrilak has been a fixture at Atlantique City since the market opened in 1986.
Other than Brimfield, Atlantique City is the only market at which Havrilak sets up.
“The gate is phenomenal and, like Brimfield, it is one of the few shows where the merchandise is second to none. Everybody brings their best to the Atlantic City show,” said Havrilak.
Among his best will be a large advertising jeweler’s clock that once hung outside a storefront in Springfield, Ohio. It was the primary reason for Havrilak’s recent trip to Ohio.
The expense of an extra day on the road and even the high price of gasoline do not faze the veteran dealer.
“The quality of the piece is what will sell it; the price is really secondary. It’s a matter of whom you’re dealing with and what they want to invest in,” said Havrilak. “Atlantic City brings in some of the best collectors and buyers still.”
Havrilak has always had a taste for quality. As a young man, the first antique he purchased was an antique cash register for which he paid $800. “They all said I was crazy. After I cleaned it up and sold it for $1,300 they didn’t think I was so crazy,” he said.
In the 1980s, working as a technician for the sergeant of arms of the U.S. Senate, Havrilak had the opportunity to delve into his favorite hobby.
“I just started as a collector of fine antiques. I had the Library of Congress at my access and the ability to research stuff. That evolved after 13 years when I moved to Cape May and opened an antique shop,” he said.
Havrilak no longer has a shop, but sells from three co-ops, on eBay and occasionally through major New York auction houses.
“The market has changed a lot in the last five to seven years. You have to find something the baby boomers will want to sink their teeth into as far as quality. Everybody now wants the best,” he said.
Havrilak pointed to cut glass as an example. With a surplus of common pieces offered on eBay, prices have been depressed.
“It’s supply and demand,” said Havrilak. “You have to have that piece of cut glass that stands above, and you don’t see it on eBay.”
Havrilak handles anything of high quality, period furniture to fine art. “Art glass — Tiffany, Handel, Pairpoint — anything with a good name,” he said.
“Everything I sell is handpicked. I don’t buy in bulk. I usually pick items just for Atlantic City and I’ve been doing it for so long I pretty much know what they want,” said Havrilak.
His former business partner, Bob Gomm, Roadrunner Antiques in Cape May, talked Havrilak into setting up at the first Atlantique City show in 1986.
“They put us all the way back in the farthest corner of the building. Yet we had a very good show and had a lot of fun,” said Havrilak. “We sold things and watched them sell three times after we sold them. We thought this was a very aggressive market. People were into the goods so I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Havrilak now has a prime spot at the Atlantic City Convention Center. “We’re the first booth they see when they come through the door. A lot of them come to the booth and say, ‘I can’t believe I just walked in the door and I’m spending money,’” said Havrilak.
He does not believe, however, booth location necessarily determines how successful a show a dealer will have. “It’s the quality of the merchandise and it’s the pricing of merchandise,” he said.
“I price the stuff to move it and we bring in great merchandise. It doesn’t have a problem selling,” he said. “The things I buy I like. If they don’t sell at Atlantic City, they come back and hang in my home.”
One of the best Atlantique City shows Havrilak recalled having was the time he sold a Sevres urn for $20,000 as well as a few additional high-ticket items.
“It’s not so much the monetary amount you take in. They’re all wonderful shows. They go smoothly and it’s a pleasure to sell there.”
Havrilak attributes much of the success of Atlantique City to the show management’s diligence. “They’ve made it a point to make dealers offer merchandise of great quality. They keep out reproductions and have tried to eliminate dealers that aren’t good for the business,” he said.
With Atlantique City only weeks away, Havrilak hopes for an upswing in the marketplace. “Most of the people I talk to are very positive about the business for a change. In the last few years these dealers have been complaining about their business,” he said.
“I hope everything runs smoothly, the setup goes smoothly and the crowds are just as they’ve always been,” said Havrilak. “It’s an adrenaline rush. There’s nothing like it. We’re pretty much going nonstop throughout the show. We sell from the time we start until they’re closing the doors.”
Havrilak likes the convenience of the Atlantique City show.
“Atlantic City is 15 minutes from where I live so I not only sell fine antiques to a lot of dealers, I get a lot of house calls. It’s my backyard so I don’t have to do a lot of traveling,” said Havrilak.
“As for my business, it’s escalated it tenfold. I wouldn’t be the dealer I am without Atlantic City. It’s just a premier show.”
The next Atlantique City Show is March 25-26 in Atlantic City, NJ. Visit the newly redesigned Web site at www.AtlantiqueCity.com.