Vermont: Dealers hoping for stronger sales in 2006

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader

Longtime antique dealers Margaret Cheryl Wehrspaun and Barbara Sue Kline moved from Tennessee to Bennington, Vt., in 1993. “I always heard New Englanders had a reputation for being somewhat standoffish. Quite the opposite is true. They’re extremely warm and friendly people. We were welcomed with open arms and we became part of the community,” said Wehrspaun, who, with King, owns Sweet Pea Antiques.

Their antique shop, located along U.S. Route 7 South outside Bennington, complements the historic buildings on the property. They live in the 1770 Thomas Jewett house, which was originally a tavern and inn. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys purportedly frequented the establishment. In the early 1900s the property was known as the Sweet Dairy Farm, selling bottled milk and cream.

Furniture now fills the early-1800s barn, while everything from art glass to Bennington pottery is displayed in the main shop. “So far, it’s been slow, but we just (re)opened last month,” said Wehrspaun. To broaden their shop’s appeal, Wehrspaun and Kline have added a flower farm that specializes in unusual perennials, day lilies and irises.
Wehrspaun said they like the clean air and healthful lifestyle Vermont has to offer. “We like the small-town atmosphere and friendly people.”
Bill Bradley spent his boyhood summers in Vermont after his parents restored a farmhouse in the region known as the Northeast Kingdom. A native of the Florida Keys, Bradley was in the real estate business there until he and his English-born wife, Isabelle, decided to seek a new life in Vermont.

They chose the town of Quechee, which has become a popular antiques destination. The Bradleys have owned Antiques Collaborative, a multidealer antiques and fine art center since December 1992. Unlike many antique stores in New England, Antiques Collaborative is open year-round, seven days a week. The center is located in a remodeled 1880s farmhouse and barn, which features a three-story glass atrium. Antiques Collaborative houses 165 dealer spaces stocked with high-quality antiques and fine art dating pre-1940.

“The antiques market has been soft for the last four or five years, but this past winter we’ve experienced an increase in traffic compared to the previous winter. I hope this is a trend and not just a flash in the pan,” said Bradley, adding that the new Antiques Collaborative Web site,, gets about 40,000 hits a month.
Another town considered to be an antiques destination is Lyndonville. Scott Wakeham opened Lyndonville Antique Center 15 months ago after having been a picker for eight years.

“We get a lot of traffic in the summer from Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, and we get a lot of customers from Canada, too,” said Wakeham. “We’re one of four bigger shops and a few smaller ones. This is a good place to come and hit every single one.”

Wakeham offers furniture and primitives and lots of books. “I have about 150,000 books that I sell for a dollar apiece. They’re in a big book room.” he said.  He will soon be opening a music shop that will offer new, used and antique musical instruments. “The books and music are a draw to get people into the store that wouldn’t ordinarily come in,” said Wakeham.

Lyndonville Antique Center houses 12 dealers. “We’ll deal … prices aren’t set in stone,” said Wakeham, who is looking forward to a strong summer after experiencing a slight decline in April.

Also located in Lyndonville is Antiques & Emporium, owned by veteran dealer and auctioneer Paul Steele, and his wife, Lucy. Their store is located in an 1870s school academy, which had served the town as a health clinic in recent years until it was heavily damaged by fire. Steele, who is also in the construction business, bought the property, removed the second story and opened their store in 2002.

“We sell as many antiques as we can keep in here,” said Steele, who also handles high-quality used furniture and reproduction weather vanes. “We had a three-door icebox that just sold. I have a 1930s cream and green kitchen stove that’s a gas and wood combination; Hoosier kitchen cabinets, butcher blocks … a little bit of everything,” said Steele. “There are four other dealers, but the majority of it is mine.”

Steele is looking forward to additional development at the nearby Burke Mountain Ski Resort. “They have to drive by our sign to get on the highway to the south. … Skiers and snowmobilers come in a buy a lot from us,” said Steele, who attributed a slowdown last winter to a lack of snow.

Eight miles to the south in St. Johnsbury, Rod Lauman has operated Victrola Repair Service out of his home since 1989. “It’s a fairly steady thing. A lot of people have family pieces they want to have restored,” said Lauman, who does mechanical repairs as well as restoration to cabinets.

“The mainspring is the no. 1 reason a person sends in a machine. It no longer winds; the mainspring is broken,” said Lauman. Replacing worn-out rubber components in the sound reproducer is another common repair. Lauman also stocks restored phonographs, which are listed on his Web site

A longstanding event in Vermont is the Green Mountain Antique Show, which will be July 29-30 at the Union Arena Community Center in Woodstock. One of the four couples who put on the annual show are Mary and Bob Fraser of Frasers’ Antiques in the nearby hamlet of Taftsville.

“Eight of us manage it together. We’re all Vermont dealers, four husband-and-wife teams. Everyone has a different responsibility,” said Mary Fraser, who handles show publicity.

“It’s a walled show so pieces are displayed in room settings,” she said. “It’s primarily New England, but we have dealers from Kentucky, Maryland and New York. A lot of it is Americana. I like to say we have a representation from folk art to formal antiques.”

New to the show this year will be a breakfast preview Saturday at 8 a.m. “People can come early, have breakfast and shop,” said Fraser. At their antique shop, Fraser said she has been seeing fewer shoppers this spring, but those who stop have been buying more.

One of Vermont’s prominent auction firms is Thomas Hirchak Co., located in Morrisville and Williston, near Burlington. While selling everything from commercial equipment to automobiles, Hirchak enjoys conducting antique auctions. “We probably do 25 or so a year,” he said. “We had a nice sale last week where we had a country painting by Cyrenius Hall that brought over $30,000, which was a good price for that painting.”

Hirchak is optimistic about his role in the antiques trade. “We’re busy. Fortunately we’ve been experiencing growth for 28 years. My goal is to keep it happening this year, too,” he said.