Indiana: Indy is only the hub of wheeling ‘n’ dealing in Hoosier State

While Indiana is the Crossroads of America, the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis is the hub of the state’s antique show trade. Major antique shows are staged at several exposition halls there throughout the year.

Ronnie and Sandy Cox launched the Hoosier Antiques Exposition at the fairgrounds in 1969, and their grown children manage it today. “They were supposed to retire but they won’t let go completely. I guess there’s good reason for that. They want to make sure everything is run according to the standards they’ve set,” said daughter Amy Cox.

The spring segment in early April is the largest of their three shows, with about 200 dealers. “We’re known more as a glass show, but I’m not sure why. We do have a lot of glass compared to the other shows here in Indy, but we have quite a variety actually,” said Cox. The other Cox shows are in mid September and early December.

The longest running antique show in Indiana is the Crutcher Antiques Show, which is a three-day event in November. Doug Supinger of Troy, Ohio, acquired the upscale show from Jenkins Management in 2004.  The show features formal country and American furniture, fine art, folk art, quilts and more.

The Indy Antique Ad Show is going into its 38th season at the fairgrounds. “It’s still one of the few places where quality items are showing up and people can still handle them,” said Doug Moore, who owns the show along with Vern Atkins. “A lot of good stuff is going to the Internet, but when you get into the high-dollar items, people like to see it and hold it in person.”
Moore said that while fewer young people are buying traditional antiques the bold design and graphics of antique advertising have bolstered this segment of the market. Like most antique show promoters, Moore and Atkins are finding it more difficult to attract more dealers to replace those who have retired or died.

Coinciding with the March 10-11 Indy Antique Advertising Show, Moore and Adkins will promote a one-day antique toy show, on March 11. “To get this show started we’re basically giving free booth space and we’re charging only $10 per table to get dealers to come to the show,” said Moore. Merchandise will be limited to pre-1970s toys.

Stewart Promotions, based in Louisville, Ky., has held its Indiana Flea Market at the state fairgrounds in Indianapolis since 1976. This free-admission show is held eight times a year. Stewart Promotions also stages five flea markets a year at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne. The annual Indianapolis Methodist Hospital Art & Antiques Show is another major event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and will mark its 20th anniversary March 9-11.

Large antique malls are located throughout the Hoosier state. One of the oldest is Webb’s Antique Mall in Centerville, which opened in the 1970s. Verlon Webb, whose father, Ellis Webb was one of the first of many dealers to open small shops in Centerville, started buying and selling antiques as a teenager.

“In the early 1970s I was doing auctions in Georgia and I saw a chicken coop that was divided into four spaces and had four different dealers selling stuff there. I thought that’s a great concept, so I came back to Centerville and found a building that had space for about 30 dealers. I had a waiting list almost instantly so I started looking for a bigger building,” said Verlon. In 1981 he moved his antique mall to a vacant factory, minutes from I-70. With 85,000 square feet of space, 500 booths and 400 display cases, Webb’s Antique Mall is still one of the largest in the Midwest.
Centerville, founded in 1814 on the National Road, continues to support many smaller antique shops in its historic downtown. An hour’s drive east of Indianapolis and an hour north of Cincinnati, Centerville is a favorite weekend getaway for antique shoppers.

Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh quickly established itself as a top attraction. Opened in May 2000, the business was part antique mall, part car museum. The closing of the museum in 2002 enabled all 72,000 square feet to be devoted to the antique mall. Gregory and Denise Pence of Columbus, Ind., purchased the antique mall in March, and Nic Nicoson remains as general manager.

“The owners are committed to making the mall the finest in the Midwest and also the finest for our merchants,” said Nicoson, who held regional sales positions for Franklin Mint and Eddie Bauer before managing Exit 76. Nicoson has statistics on the number of customers at Exit 76, where they come from, how many sales are made a month and the average price per purchase. He said success ultimately depends on dealers offering merchandise that customers want.

“The ones who think they can just throw it in a booth and it will sell with dust on it don’t make it,” said Nicoson. “Of our top 20 merchants the past couple of years, all 20 worked their booth at least once a week.”
Exit 76 Antique Mall has benefited by its location adjacent to a large and thriving outlet mall. “We put up a huge electronic message board at the corner of our lot. If you’re at the main intersection of the outlet mall you’re not going to miss us,” said Nicoson. The antique mall takes its name from the exit number along I-65, 30 miles south of Indianapolis.

The Amish community of Shipshewana has been synonymous with antiques for many years, and today it is a tourist destination. What stated as a livestock auction in 1922 has developed into the biggest business in the town. A recent addition to the famous Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market is the Trading Place Antique Gallery, an antique mall that features more than 100 dealers in a building designed especially for that purpose.
“We push quality,” said Chuck Haarer, who has been the mall manager since it opened in 1998. “We keep to an age guideline, early 1960s and older. Anything that comes in newer than that we pull.”

Haarer, who joined the operation in 1975 while still a college student, also manages what is called the miscellaneous and antique auction. Promptly at 8 a.m. every Wednesday, up to 10 auctioneers begin selling consigned items brought in by dealers and individuals from across the Midwest.

“They’re just different ones who are in the business of buying and selling, or individuals who want to clean out an estate,” said Haarer. Anyone with items to sell can phone to reserve a space on the sale floor. “What makes it different than most auctions is that we provide the service and they deliver it to us, set it up, display it, and handle it at the time it is being offered for auction. They don’t have to do that but most do,” said Haarer. The auction usually runs to about 1 p.m.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, May through October, Shipshewana Flea Market is populated by up to 1,000 vendors. Haarer said that merchandise sold at the flea market has changed drastically over the years. “When I first started here in the mid ’70s it was an antique mecca,” he said. Like many flea markets today, new merchandise and crafts have largely replaced antiques. “There are few antiques at our at our flea market these days. It still brings a lot of people to Shipshewana,” said Haarer.

Dozens of specialty shops are located in Shipshewana’s business district. Haarer’s sister, Rebecca Haarer, is a noted quilt dealer who sells at a downtown location.

While Michael G. Strawser of Wolcottville conducts 50 to 60 auctions per year around northern Indiana, he is more widely known for his majolica auctions, usually held in Pennsylvania. “My wife and I bought our first piece of majolica on our honeymoon as we stopped at antique shops along our travels,” said Strawser. He founded the International Majolica Society in the late 1980s and staged his first majolica auction in 1990.

Strawser conducts two majolica auctions a year. In October 2005 he sold the Marilyn Karmason collection at Alderfer Auction Center in Hatfield, Pa. Karmason had been the secretary of the International Majolica Society and co-authored the book Majolica, A Complete History and Illustrated Survey. Strawser is also the leader in specialty auctions of Fiesta ware and has held numerous record prices.

Ken Frecker of New Haven, near Fort Wayne, has been an auctioneer for about 25 years. He started an every-Monday consignment auction about 15 years ago. First held at a local armory, the auction was displaced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That prompted Frecker to build an auction center at 620 W. Lincoln Highway in New Haven, where he also conducts two toy-train auctions per year.

On Saturdays, Frecker travels 90 miles north to Hillsdale, Mich., where he conducts a farm auction at the county fairgrounds. “It’s been going since 1907. This will be the 100th anniversary next year,” said Frecker, who regularly sells hay, goats, sheep and farm-related items, as well as antiques. “We always have some pickers there,” he said.

Indianapolis is a highly competitive market for auctioneers. Antique Helper is a newcomer to the auction business, but is headed by Dan Ripley, a third-generation antique dealer.

Ripley founded Antique Helper in 2001, initially with eBay listings only. “We didn’t do our first eBay Live auction until 2002,” said Ripley, who conducts about 18 antique auctions per year at the Antique Helper gallery at 2764 E. 55th Place, on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

Ripley said there is demand for his service. “Our goal is to increase that demand on a high-end level. I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize that we can achieve prices that they might have thought they’d get only by taking their things to an auction out of state.”

With the operation growing, Ripley has hired a full-time head auctioneer, Dwayne Butler. Ripley credits Butler for managing the Hipp collection of baseball memorabilia that sold at auction for $336,000 in October 2005, which at the time was Antique Helper’s largest-grossing sale. Antique Helper has also demonstrated its ability to sell fine art and antiques with outstanding results.

“In 2007 we have plans to expand and upgrade our building and make it even more inviting and continue with our gallery-style auctions,” said Ripley, adding he intends to increase the number of cataloged auctions, which are conducted on eBay Live. “We do a lot more advertising that just eBay Live. Using the national trade publications we really feel like we reach the broad spectrum of collectors.

“Coming from an antique-dealer background, I feel like we know the collectors better than most auction houses and market our sales toward them. We are able to provide information they need to bid through the Internet or absentee and bid with confidence. That’s how we’ve been successful in achieving the kind of prices we have,” said Ripley.

A veteran auctioneer in the Indianapolis market who has elevated the status of Indiana art is Dennis Jackson of Jacksons’ Auction Co. He began his career in Anderson as a special-education teacher and part-time auctioneer. He opened an auction gallery there in 1978 and has been a full-time auctioneer ever since. After seeing a painting by T.C. Steele, Indiana’s foremost artist, sell at auction for several thousand dollars in Indianapolis, it dawned on Jackson that someone should be selling Indiana art at auction. He put together a collection of Indiana paintings for his first art auction in 1981 and made money on all of them, he said. From there on consignments started arriving to the extent he now conducts Indiana art auctions four times a year.

“I’m seeing a sustaining number of newer people coming in … not afraid to spend $5,000 or more for a painting,” said Jackson, noting he once sold comparable paintings for $300 to $500 apiece. He has also observed work by Indiana artists are held in high regard beyond the Midwest. “Now, if a painting (by an Indiana artist) crops up in Pennsylvania or Connecticut, most of the time it brings a fair price,” said Jackson.

In addition to selling antiques, estates and real estate, Jackson regularly conducts specialty auctions of collectible St. Clair glass, made during the mid-20th century in Elwood. “I’ve seen the market wane a little. The hard-to-find pieces still bring a strong price, but the production pieces are down. It’s the same as we’re seeing in the antiques field. The rare and hard-to-find things bring tremendous prices and everything else is often a percentage of what it used to be,” he said. Jackson, who works with his auctioneer son, Bryan, sells out of an auction showroom at 8250 Zionsville Road on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

One of the longest-running antique markets in Indiana is Collectors Carnival Antique & Flea Market, which is held four times a year at the Vanderburgh County 4-H Center in Evansville. Brent and Suzie Pace founded the show in 1992 and credit a core group of antique vendors for making it a viable market today.

“Our vendors helped us get started. Those dealers wanted a show in this area and they’re still with us to-