Minnesota: Gopher State antiques market alive, well

While Minnesota may not be considered a hotbed of the antiques trade, first-time visitors will undoubtedly be surprised at what the Gopher State has to offer.

“There’s a reasonable selection of antiques available here, and I know that people from other parts of the country like to come because our prices are lower than they are on the coasts,” said Charley Bathke, the owner of two prominent multidealer antique stores in Minneapolis.

In October, Bathke opened Coe & Channell Antiques in the Coe & Channell Building at 2727 Hennepin Ave., and since then has purchased Antiques Riverwalk at 210 Third Ave. N. “Uptown Minneapolis is really bustling. Traffic and sales have been good (at Coe & Channell Antiques). It’s been pretty good at Riverwalk, but not quite as vibrant,” said Bathke, a longtime collector who started selling only five years ago.

Cameron Quintal and Brian Smith were collectors until November 2001 when they opened Eastwood Gallery, now at 404 Snelling Ave. S. in St. Paul. They describe their store as a comprehensive source for the Arts and Crafts collector and bungalow owner.

“I read somewhere that Minne-apolis St. Paul has more bungalows per capita than any metropolitan area with the exception of Pasadena,” said Quintal, who described their business as solid, like the early 20th-century oak furniture they sell. Quintal and Smith also have started an Arts and Crafts antique show, which this year will be held Sept. 23-24 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

More antique outlets are located in communities around the Twin Cities. Michelle Chez of Barrister Collectibles sells out of Antiques at Shady Oaks in Hopkins, a 15-minute drive west of downtown Minneapolis. “Hopkins is probably one of the top destinations for antiques with numerous antique stores and a downtown feel. You can park your car on the main street and walk up and down to the shops,” said Chez, who specializes in fine vintage diamonds and jewelry and also sells at about 25 shows per year. “My business is going quite well. People are spending money on quality merchandise. That’s what I focus on,” said Chez.

An advantage she sees in basing her business in Minnesota is the trust customers tend to place in her. “People are a lot more trusting here. They’re willing to take a risk in doing business with you, and as long as you treat them well and right, they become extremely loyal customers you keep,” she said.

Tracy Luther of Luther Auctions, 2556 E. Seventh Ave. in North St. Paul, has been active in the antiques trade for 30 years and an auctioneer for about 22 years. One advantage he sees in doing business in Minnesota is the customer base. “We have very educated buyers, they pay their bill and they’re honest,” said Luther. “They’re not like people from some other parts of the country, like out East or out West, that like to get things on approval. Here they know what they want, buy it and pay for it.”

While Luther said the antiques trade is changing and the auction business is down from what it was in years past, he remains optimistic. He does not fret about eBay’s effects on the antiques trade. “The Internet has taught people about the auction process. EBay and those sites are auctions, which I obviously believe in. It is the purest way to sell something. It gets people interested in auctions and the bidding part of it,” said Luther. “Of course, prices have changed because you can find out what everything is worth now. It’s easy to look things up.”

Many more opportunities for antiquing in Minnesota lie in all directions. Luther pointed to the vacation area surrounding Lake Mille Lacs, the small cities of Alexandria and Brainerd, and picturesque towns dotting the Lake Superior shoreline north of Duluth.

Of course, Stillwater, located on the west bank of the St. Croix River, is widely known for its community of antique stores. “Stillwater has a wide range of things. There are shops with very fine items and there are shops with collectibles and everything in between,” said Luther.

The city of Rochester is famous or the Mayo Clinic, but it has a healthy number of antique outlets. One of the most notable is John Kruesel’s General Merchandise & Auction Co. A former heating and plumbing contractor, Kruesel’s shop carries everything from antique lighting and plumbing fixtures to military vehicles.

Kruesel observed that Minnesota and the upper Midwest were once populated by savers. “Most things didn’t get thrown away. This is a haven for articles the masses would like,” he said.

The masses indeed flock to two related area attractions: the annual Oronoco Gold Rush antique market (Aug. 18-20), which is organized by the town of Oronoco; and the Gold Rush antique markets held in Rochester at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds. This year’s dates are May 13-14, Aug. 19-20 and Sept. 23-24.

The Oronoco Gold Rush, commemorating the 1858 discovery of gold there, was founded in 1972 with 38 vendors. Today this communitywide event has room for 1,200 vendor spaces. The Gold Rush split in 1988, with a faction moving to Rochester. This indoor-outdoor market on 52 acres has 1,400 vendor spaces.

Richard and Kae Townsend have been the promoters of Rochester’s Gold Rush for 12 years and own Iridescent House, a local antique store. They also promote Star of the North Antique Shows in Minneapolis. They were looking forward to a strong Gold Rush market in May.

“We’ve had customers come to the store and saying they are putting more money into antiques instead of in the stock markets. That’s a good sign for us,” said Richard Townsend. “I don’t think our economy in Minnesota is that bad. We’re not like Detroit. We don’t have the big layoffs … I think the antique business is pretty good here.”

— Tom Hoepf