New Hampshire’s antique trade bound by tradition

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader

The antique trade is all about tradition in New Hampshire, where an abandoned woolen mill has been transformed into an exclusive retail center, a former creamery is now home to a single-owner shop, and a unique every-Sunday market survives despite losing its venue in the name of progress. While all eyes turn to New Hampshire for the annual August tradition of Antiques Week, there is an abundance of antiquing opportunities to be discovered year round. The roster of the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association reads like a “Who’s Who” of the trade, but it is the rock-solid core of everyday dealers that make antiquing in the Granite State a rewarding experience.

A prime example of historic preservation in New Hampshire is the former Faulkner and Colony Woolen Mill in Keene, which has been transformed into Colony Mill Marketplace. Built in 1838, the mill produced garments for Union troops during the Civil War and for Allied forces during both World Wars. Upon closing in 1953, the mill fell into disrepair until developers restored and transformed it into a regional marketplace in 1983. One of the many commercial businesses located there is Antiques at Colony Mill, owned by veteran dealers Mackenzie and Daniel Yelin.

“Our clientele is pretty much worldwide. We have people coming here from as far away as Japan to see us,” said Daniel, adding that the store is a showcase for some of the best dealers in the United States. “The fact that we’re open seven days a week – until 9 o’clock Monday through Saturday – is a big plus because people will go shop the other area antique shops and come see us after they’re all done. Plus, there’s a brew pub and fine restaurant downstairs, and they will come up to our shop after dinner.”

More than 120 dealers are represented at Antiques at Colony Mill. While the complex retains its outstanding architectural elements, like original plank flooring, there’s nothing grimy about the environment. “We get compliments that it’s the cleanest and nicest antique shop they’ve every seen,” said Daniel.

Marcia Armstrong’s Lyme Creamery Antiques is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season. Located 10 miles north of Hanover, the town of Lyme is on a scenic stretch of State Route 10 that follows the Connecticut River for about 40 miles on the western border of New Hampshire.

“I’m open May through the close of the leaf season, mid-October to first of November, depending on what I’m doing that year,” said Armstrong, who said business has been “up and down” this season. “Our weather has been sketchy here, which hasn’t helped.”

Armstrong’s store is located in an old creamery, where farmers once brought milk and cream to be processed for local consumption. It was built in 1912 after fire destroyed the 1888 creamery that originally stood on the same site.

Lyme Creamery Antiques stocks 18th and 19th century furniture, lots of boxes and many unusual items, said Armstrong. The area’s natural splendor and its abundance of antiques make New Hampshire a great destination. “It’s a beautiful part of the world to drive around and visit. It’s good American antiques.”

New Hampshire boasts two so-called antique alleys, where concentrations of shops lie along heavily traveled roads. The (U.S.) Route 4 Antique Alley claims to be New England’s oldest antiques shopping district, with more than 500 dealers in the adjacent towns of Northwood, Lee, Epsom and Chichester.
Clem and Bonnie Hartley opened Lakeview Antique Center in a former restaurant in Northwood four years ago. As the name suggests, they have a view of Northwood Lake. “We’re well-known for the furniture we have. We try hard to get the highest quality and at the lowest prices,” said Clem. “You can find something here at half the price you would find up on Route 1 in Maine.” Clocks, toys, dolls and jewelry are among the top attractions at Lakeview Antique Center.

Opened in 1976, Parker-French Antique Center in Northwood is known as the cornerstone of the Route 4 Antique Alley. Last year, owners Richard Bojko and John Mullen purchased the adjacent Hart’s Desire Antique Center, formerly the Hayloft, and renamed it Parker-French West. The two stores combined have more than 275 dealer spaces.
Farther up Route 4 in Chichester, about 15 miles northeast of Concord, is Austin’s Antiques, a group shop founded by owner Peter Austin about 15 years. “We have everything most shops do, except many dealers come here to buy because it’s such a nice shop,” said Paul Glorioso, a dealer renting space at Austin’s.
“It’s been a tough year. Most of the shops that are good are holding their own,” said Glorioso, a retired art teacher from New York State. “We always wanted to be in the antiques business. Of course, we were out of our minds, but we love it.”

With his art background, Glorioso favors oil paintings, watercolors, pastels, portraits and prints for his booth. Other dealers at Austin’s offer a good selection of American primitives, old lighting and Sandwich glass.

The second concentration of antique stores is known as the New Hampshire Antique Trail. It runs along State Route 101A, with its eastern end starting in Nashua. A branch of the trail extends north on State Route 101 to Amherst, where Needful Things is open year round.

“It was one of the first co-ops on the strip,” said Mindy McGriff, who with her husband, Barry, bought the 185-dealer store three years ago. Needful Things has been open for 12 years.
“It’s carpeted, air conditioned, heated in the winter – believe it or not, some shops around here aren’t – and it’s pretty, with the way it’s set up with built-in cases. It’s very clean,” said McGriff. Although Needful Things is widely known for its vast assortment of smalls, McGriff said the store also has open spaces stocked with furniture. The store is open daily, on Thursdays during the summer until 8 p.m.

Customers from across the country shopping at Needful Things often remark favorably about prices in general in New Hampshire, said McGriff. “I think prices are very reasonable out here compared to other areas like Maine and Vermont,” she said. McGriff described business this year as consistent, although the price of gas has apparently curtailed the volume of traffic along the strip.

Also located in Amherst is 101A Antiques & Collectibles Center, owned since 1999 by Michael Smith. Approximately 150 dealers rent space in the store. Smith said the center is having a solid year. “We’re ahead of ’05, so I have to say that’s good in terms of sales … I could always use more quality dealers,” he said.

A New Hampshire tradition that will be changing with the colors this fall will be the Nashua Antiques Shows held for the past 29 years at St. Stan’s Hall. With the closing of the church hall, show manager Jack Donigan has found a new venue and a new name for the antique market held every Sunday from October to April. On Oct. 15 the show will debut as the Milford Antique Market at Hampshire Hills Sports and Fitness Club, in Milford, about 11 miles west of Nashua.

Donigan assures dealers and customers the market will retain its time-honored format, including the sale of season passes for regular customers. Regular admission is $5. “We’ve been fortunate to get a lot of excellent quality dealers from week to week. We get dealers from Maine, Vermont, upper New Hampshire, even New York state and Connecticut. They travel great distances because it’s a vibrant wholesale market,” said Donigan.

The market opens at 9 a.m. and closes at noon and features approximately 100 dealers. A dozen or more hearty dealers set up tailgate-style outdoors beginning at 8 a.m. “It’s intense, with mostly dealer-to-dealer activity, although the public is certainly invited,” said Donigan.

Another tradition in New Hampshire is the annual May 1 opening of Burlwood Antique Center in the state’s Lakes-Region town of Meredith. Last season’s opening day attracted a record 500 customers. Store policy prohibits its dealers from trading until the center opens the first day of the season. With 170 dealers, Burlwood reported $1.3 million in sales for its six-month 2005 season.

Some of New England’s most prominent auctioneers are based in New Hampshire. Perhaps the most famous is Richard “Dick” Withington of Hillsborough Center. He started in 1949 and his company has conducted 2,400 auctions.

The Cobbs Auctioneers & Appraisers was in business in New Jersey before moving to New Hampshire in 1967. “We came for the wonderful landscape. It had nothing to do with antiques,” said Bruce Cobb, who was 6 years old when his auctioneer father, Charles, moved to Peterborough. Bruce has been working with his father in the family business since he was 15.

“The antique business is pretty decent, but it’s changed. Brown furniture, as we call it, doesn’t sell nearly as well as it used to. Americana has dropped off, unless it’s something wonderful,” said Cobb.

Some of The Cobbs’ best prices have been for fine art. As an example, on July 1, The Cobbs sold a large bird’s-eye view of the North Conway Valley by White Mountain artist Dewitt Clinton Boutelle for $60,950 including a 15 percent buyer’s premium. “We sold it two years ago and broke a record then for about $31,000,” said Bruce Cobb. “The collector decided to sell it again with us, and it nearly doubled.”

Gallery at Knotty Pine is located in West Swanzey, four miles south of Keene. Twelve years ago John S. Pappas started his auction service, which has grown rapidly. Meanwhile his parents, Steve and Joan Pappas, have operated a shop there for more than 30 years.

Pappas conducts four Americana auctions and two Victorian decorative arts auctions per year, numerous specialty auctions and about 50 general estate auctions each year. “The shop business has slowed down, but our auction business has picked up the slack,” said John, who has installed a second gallery, known as the Annex at Knotty Pine.