Florida: Sunshine peeking through on antique market

Battered by hurricanes and economic downdrafts in recent years, Florida’s antique dealers and show promoters have proved they can absorb the blows and get back on their feet. Arcadia, a town 22 miles inland from Port Charlotte on the Gulf Coast, took a direct hit from Hurricane Charley on Aug. 13, 2004. The Category-4 storm tore the roof off the town’s opera house museum, which houses Isabelle’s Antiques. Hurricane Frances hit three weeks later before the building could be repaired.

“Charley got us with the wind and Frances got us with the rain. It pretty much finished us off. It was ridiculous,” said store owner Cindy Long, who refused to give up. Years earlier she had helped her husband survive cancer. She was determined to overcome this latest setback.

“I just love what I do, which makes it easier. As much as it’s hard sometimes, if you’re doing something you like, it’s not hard,” she said.
Long said that after reopening in 2005, sales were tremendous, but that they’ve been terrible this year. “It’s an unpredictable business,” she said.

“The store is full. We’re just waiting for some people. We’ll be fine.”
Although several antique shops have closed recently, Arcadia still has enough businesses to support a dealers association, which Long established.

“We’ve taken over running the downtown antique fair. We had a tremendous turnout last month and we’re expecting the same throughout the season,” said Long. On the fourth Saturday of the month antique dealers set up downtown on Main Street, which is closed to traffic for the day.

For Kim Macarthy, owner of Copper ‘Possum Antiques & Collectibles in Milton, every cloud has its silver lining. “There was some kind of a guardian angel sitting on top of our building for hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, because my building remained intact,” said Macarthy.

Yet on July 10, 2005, less than a mile away across the Blackwater River, Hurricane Dennis caused heavy damage to downtown Milton. Ten months earlier Hurricane Ivan made landfall at Gulf Shores, Ala., about 50 miles to the west. Macarthy said Copper ‘Possum Antiques remained closed for two weeks after each of those hurricanes waiting for electric service to be restored.

“Many people in this area lost everything they owned. All they had was what they took with them to spend the night somewhere. It happened to one of our dealers. She had to take some things from the mall because she had nothing,” said Macarthy.

Two years after Hurricane Ivan, local customers are coming to Macarthy’s antique mall to replace what was destroyed. “Those people have been a boon to our business because as they are rebuilding, they’re refurnishing. So what we lost in business in fun collectible things has been more than offset by furniture sales and necessities,” said Macarthy.

Residents of the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi are furnishing their rebuilt homes more than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. “They come here with trucks and buy pieces similar to what they had before they lost everything in the storm,” said Macarthy.
Outdoor advertising along I-10 and the mall’s unusual name combine to attract many customers. Macarthy said she chose the name Copper ‘Possum because there are a lot of opossums in the area and was told they are the oldest living marsupial. “It’s cool because we deal in old stuff,” said Macarthy, who has 55 dealers at the mall.

Being able to escape cold winter weather enticed Verlon Webb, a longtime Indiana antique mall owner, to pursue a business opportunity about 15 years ago in north Florida.

“They heard about me and offered me this property in Lake City … 20 acres with a nice building on a corner by the interstate,” said Webb. “I decided to buy it as an investment and let the mall pay for the property.” Webb’s Lake City location is off I-75 at Exit 414 and along U.S. Route 441 & 41.

Five years ago he and daughter Marcie Webb opened the second of their Webb’s Antique Malls in Winter Garden, on the west side of Orlando along U.S. Route 50. Each of their Florida malls has about 50,000 square feet, 400 booths and is open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Webbs maintain their original 100,000-square-foot antique mall in Centerville, Ind. “We’re doing OK,” said Verlon Webb. “Business is better in Florida in the winter and better in Indiana in the summer.”

David and Vikki Schutt have been married 33 years and for the past 28 years have owned and operated Gaslight Antiques in Tampa. Their store at 3636 Henderson Blvd. has three galleries, the main one offering a general line, a Georgian Gallery stocked with 18th- and 19th-century furniture, and another specializing in 19th- and early 20th-century office furnishings.

“We’re in an area here in south Tampa where we deal with professional people and we’re only a couple miles from downtown. We furnish not only professional offices but also home offices with wonderful old things,” said Vikki.

Gaslight Antiques also carries lamps and clocks. David is a member of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors.

The Silver Queen in nearby Largo reigns as a leading seller of silver flatware and hollowware. “We specialize in estate sterling and maintain one of the largest inventories of antique and discontinued sterling patterns in the country,” said Greg Arbutine, chief executive officer of the company founded by his father.

“My dad retired from the Air Force in 1972 and started a small coin shop. My mother, my two brothers and I were sort of drafted along to help,” said Arbutine, who joined the business full-time after graduating college in 1987.

“My mom actually is the original Silver Queen. She had a passion for silver sets that were coming in, so she started advertising in Antique Trader and doing mail-order,” said Arbutine.

Although his parents, Patricia and Art, stay involved, Greg has headed the company since 1990. Sales have been increased through the company’s catalog, Internet site and a 3,500-square-foot showroom at 1350 W. Bay Drive in Largo.

The Silver Queen is sponsoring the exhibit “Marvelous, Magnificent Martele – American Art Nouveau Silver,” on display through Jan. 7, at the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg. Gorham Silver Co. produced the exclusive Martele line from 1897 to 1912. The 400 pieces on display comprise the Robert and Jolie Shelton Collection from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

“Silver has that special quality, that shimmer and shine, you cannot see in any other metal. The patina, the weight, the whole look of it is something you don’t get in any other antique or art format. It takes a little extra work to maintain, but it’s well worth it,” said Greg.

Renninger’s Antique Center in Mount Dora consists of 180 shops in an air-conditioned building and about 30 shops in nearby outbuildings, all of which are open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Renninger’s Antique Fairs are the third weekend of every month except December. These events in November, January and February are expanded to three days and billed as Extravaganzas, which attract more than 1,200 vendors each. This season’s Extravaganza dates are Nov. 17-19, Jan. 19-21 and Feb. 16-18.

Doyle Carlton, general manager and one of the originators of Renninger’s Florida operations, believes several factors point toward a successful winter season. “Some of our competition is no longer in business, gas prices have come down – whether or not it makes a big economic difference, psychologically it does – and the stock market is holding up well. So we’re looking forward to a good season,” he said. Also held every weekend on Renninger’s 130-acre site in Lake County is a farmers and flea market from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In contrast to the immensity of Renninger’s is the intimacy of Waldo’s Antique Village, which opened in 1992. Named for the village in which it is located, the operation consists of a multi-dealer antique store that is open daily and a weekend flea market in six nearby barns.

“We call ourselves the Village People,” joked Rosanna Smith, who manages the store for owner Sally Blakewood. Approximately 75 dealers fill both floors of a former farm tractor dealership. “I have some lovely people who have booths here. Over the years we’ve become like a big family in this store. We look out for one another,” said Smith, who stocks a booth with Depression glass. Waldo’s Antique Village is located within view of the traffic light at the junction of U.S. Route 301 and Florida Route 24, between Stark and Gainesville.

Brothers Al and Warren Keene are back in the antique mall business after a year’s hiatus. The former owners of the AAA Antique Mall in West Palm Beach recently opened the A Antique Mall in Reddick, a small town between Gainesville and Ocala, and I-75 and U.S. Route 441.

“We wanted to get out where it wasn’t so crowded,” said Warren, who has operated antique malls in Florida and New England for 40 years. Their new mall is in the former Wayside Antique & Christmas Center at 17990 N.W. 77th Ave. “It’s a great building, 18,000 square feet, with high visibility from I-75,” said Keene, adding that the mall is nicely decorated and has many kiosk-type spaces for vendors. The mall has about 50 dealers and more available space.

Keene said sales have been brisk during their first two weeks. “The advertising is working. Local response has been great. We’re pleased with the turnout of good dealers and good customers,” he said.
Frank Speal Jr. and his wife, Barbara, are widely known in the trade for their antique advertising and country store auctions, but they also have an antique shop, Frank’s Antiques, in the front of the auction gallery in Hilliard. Auctions are conducted monthly at the gallery. The Speals will present an antique advertising auction Dec. 2 and their annual sporting collectibles auction Dec. 30 at the gallery at 551625 U.S. Route 1 in Hilliard.

Despite reports of antique malls closing and dealers giving up, Frank Speal remains optimistic about the trade. “It’s all good. Just get up and go to work. It will take care of itself,” he said.

Norma King is a longtime dealer who has carved a niche in the Florida market as a promoter of antique shows sponsored by service groups. “Our shows are small, 25 to 30 dealers, but well-rounded with good variety, not loaded with jewelry. Most of our dealers have been doing our shows for years,” said King, whose business partner is Katherine Grigsby. “We must be doing something right,” added King, who started managing shows in shopping malls in 1981.

King Antique Shows’ next event will be the St. Augustine Antique Show sponsored by the Altrusa Club, Dec. 29-31, at the National Guard Armory. King also manages shows in Vero Beach, Winter Haven, Gainesville and Orange Park.      

Taylor Hoag, founder of Weather Vane Antique Shows, has been a dealer for 34 years. He began managing antique shows in shopping malls 33 years ago, as many as 40 dates per year. After mall shows became passe, he switched to paid-admission shows three years ago. His next show will be Jan. 4-6 at the Elks Lodge in Naples. It will have 28 dealers. Hoag also promotes shows in Tampa, Pompano Beach and Winter Haven.

“I have some high-end dealers and some that I call good dealers, but I do not have collectibles and junk. That’s probably why I’m not filling my shows the way I’d like to, but if I’m going to put on an antique show, it’s going to be an antique show,” said Hoag.  
Snowbirds traveling on I-75 stop at Smiley’s Antique Mall in Micanopy. The large mall is within view of the interstate at Exit 374 on County Road 234 south of Gainesville. It offers special parking to buses and RV’s, a picnic area, dog run and clean rest rooms.

“Bus and RV traffic comes through quite a bit. It’s a great location to stop as people travel down the I-75 corridor,” said Ben Campen Jr., whose father started Smiley’s flea markets and malls in Georgia and North Carolina in the mid-1980s. They chose the name Smiley’s to reflect favorably on the business and the people involved in the trade.

Around 200 dealers from across the Southeast and East Coast are represented at Smiley’s Antique Mall in Micanopy, which opened in 1994. Ben Jr. is optimistic going into the peak winter season. “We have a new manager in place. Our previous manager unexpectedly passed away. We’re getting some new vendors, working some shows and doing various marketing things to get traffic in there for our vendors,” he said.       

When Boston businessman Gary Goldfarb needed to justify moving to Florida six years ago, he built a store in a trendy area of Delray Beach, on the corner of East Atlantic Avenue and Southeast Fifth Avenue, and opened Atlantic Antique Mall. The mall showcases antiques and collectibles from 100 dealers.

Goldfarb’s private collection comprises the U.S. Military Uniform Museum, which occupies the upper level gallery. More than 125 military uniforms dating to the 1850s are displayed. There is no admission charge.

“One thing about the location we have being on Atlantic Avenue, we get lots of tourists from the hotels and restaurants, which is great. It keeps people coming in, even if they’re not looking for antiques. During season it’s overkill. I wish I could take some of the winter (traffic) and put it toward the deep summer months,” said Goldfarb.

Walt Disney World
After Disneyland opened in California in 1955, the creative genius behind the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney, felt this feat could never be repeated. Disney disliked repeating projects, and building just another theme park was not what he wanted to do. But as Disney developed four attractions for the 1964 New York World’s Fair – General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, Ford’s Magic Skyway, Pepsi-Cola’s It’s a Small World, and the State of Illinois’ Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln – he developed a fascination with new technological advances. The idea of another massive project became more appealing.

In 1963 Disney sent his brother, Roy, and several close friends to secretly search for a location for a new park. These businessmen knew if landowners heard Disney was interested in their property, prices would skyrocket and adjoining land would be bought up too quickly. St. Louis, Niagara Falls and the Great Smoky Mountains were all seriously considered. But Florida had good weather, accessible roads and, most importantly, plenty of land available for purchase in the central part of the state. The men kept buying land in the name of various companies until they had 12,500 acres, which they thought was enough. But Disney felt he had not bought enough land around Disneyland in California, and that the mistake had prevented the ability to expand later on. So Disney’s central-Florida land purchases continued. Back in California, Disney began preliminary design work for “Project X,” in a locked, windowless room next to his office.

Rumors about who was buying the land were put to rest in 1965 when Disney announced that his company had purchased 27,443 acres for a little more than $5 million. His exact plans for Disney World were vague, but he described a city of the future along with a vacation retreat with parks and resorts. As he predicted, the price of land surrounding Disney property shot up to $80,000 per acre within days of this announcement. Unfortunately, Disney died before any construction took place. Roy Disney changed the name of the new project from Disney World to Walt Disney World to honor the dreams of his late brother.

Disney executives faced a challenge because the land was in two counties – Orange and Osceola – with two sets of zoning ordinances and building codes. They created a proposal for a self-controlled governing district that was approved by the Florida legislature in 1967. The newly formed Reedy Creek Impro vement District created the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake.

The first task for the Reedy Creek Improvement District was finding a way to drain swampland without damaging the environment. More than 50 miles of canals and levees were constructed to control water levels without jeopardizing the supply. Canals with gates that automatically open and shut according to water levels were the first “themed” part of the property. They curve through the natural landscape much as a stream would and are not as conspicuous as the straight lines of artificial canals.

Actual construction of Phase One, which included a theme park, Tempo Bay Resort Hotel, Polynesian Village Resort and a campground, began in 1969. A 9-acre network of warehouse-size rooms, called “utilidors,” was built on the foundation where the Magic Kingdom is now located. They created efficient, behind-the-scenes access to utility systems, offices, storage areas, and also backstage passage to staff work locations. This is also where the park’s computer systems reside. The Digital Animation Control System (DACS) controls everything in the park from music to water pressure to cash registers. The first Swedish-built Automated Vacuum Assisted Collection (AVAC) exported to America was installed. It was designed so that every 15 minutes trash can be drawn through the tubes and sent to a central compactor station.

While engineers and Disney executives were busy with construction in Florida, teams of “Imagineers,” a Disney term for artists and designers, were hard at work in California. Every ride and show went through months of detailed planning before being built. Extensive historical research brought authenticity to everything from the Pirates of the Caribbean to The Hall of Presidents. With a storyboard and hundreds of sketches, Imagineers crafted scale models of every ride or show. The models guided production of full-size clay sculptures of animated figures and props used to create molds for the actual show or ride pieces. As the pieces were fabricated and assembled, voices and sound effects were recorded and backgrounds were constructed.

Above-ground construction of the Magic Kingdom began in early 1970. It opened on Oct. 1, 1971 with six theme areas. They were Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The opening of Disney-MGM Studios in 1989 is one of the most significant of the many additions have been made in the past 35 years. Walt Disney World now covers 43 square miles and is the largest entertainment complex on earth.