North Carolina: Many antique lovers choose to stay

There’s something about North Carolina that draws people to it. Perhaps it’s the beautiful landscapes, the agreeable climate or the friendly people who live there. Auctioneer Richard Hatch, founder of Richard D. Hatch & Associates, moved from St. Petersburg, Fla., to the Hendersonville area about 19 years ago for the climate.

“Florida used to be more seasonable than it is today. We like the change of seasons we get up here,” said Hatch, who conducts antique auctions every six to eight weeks at his modern auction house in nearby Flat Rock.

“The new facility allows us to stockpile things and put them on display for our specialty auctions,” said Hatch. His next specialty auction will be a large Orientalia sale Nov. 17-18. “We used to worry about having enough merchandise for the next sale. My only worry now is that I cannot sell it fast enough. It keeps coming in fast,” said Hatch, adding that many longtime customers are downsizing by selling their antiques at his auctions.

“Good items are continuing to bring good money. We just don’t have as many beginning or entry-level buyers as we did long ago. I hope to see that change,” said Hatch, who started attending auctions when he worked in a coin shop at age 15.

“I started going to coin auctions and just liked the auctions. I thought ‘I can do this myself’,” he said. Hatch was an auctioneer by the time he was 17 and later helped write the Florida auctioneer licensing laws.

Jon Lambert started Mebane Antique Auction Gallery in 1991 and claims to have North Carolina’s largest weekly auction. Mebane, a town of about 7,300, is located midway between Winston-Salem and Greensboro to the west and Durham and Raleigh to the east. The region is heavily populated and growing rapidly, said Lambert, which bodes well for his traditional auction house.

There are no buyer’s premiums or reserves at Mebane Antique Auction Gallery. Absentee and phone bids are seldom accepted. “The exception is when a person has inspected the item personally or it has been inspected by a representative on their behalf,” said Lambert. “My philosophy is the product will sell itself. If you have great material the buyers will be there.”

An example was a 1937 New York Yankees baseball that sold for $8,000 at a Friday-night auction in September. It bore the autographs of Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and several other Hall of Fame players.  “It came out of a lock box in Burlington. We didn’t get to advertise it nationally; it sold locally. (The buyer) will probably make $5,000 on it,” said Lambert.

Lambert’s biggest sale is the annual Americana auction the second Friday in December, which this year will be Dec. 8. “We set back choice items throughout the year from 500 different families and compile them into one auction. That sale normally does $1 million in about 10 hours,” said Lambert.

His annual North Carolina art pottery auction scheduled for Nov. 4 will contain approximately 350 lots and be presented in a full-color catalog. “North Carolina pottery is really on a rise. It’s a good investment, getting harder to find and there’s been a lot of books published on the subjects,” said Lambert. “People everywhere are starting to collect beautiful pieces, which were made from the 1920s through the 1980s.”

Lambert said he has seen the market change in the past five years, with prices of mid-range and low-end items dropping 20 percent to 30 percent. Meanwhile buyers are now better educated and more selective. “People zero in on the choice pieces, and those are bringing record prices,” he said.
A major attraction in North Carolina is Replacements Ltd., the world’s leading seller of dinnerware. While the company’s 12,000-square-foot showroom store and museum in Greensboro attracts thousands of customers, the bulk of its sales comes through Internet orders.

Bob Page said he invested heavily in a state of the art computer system shortly after he founded Replacements Ltd. in 1981 and credits its use for the company’s rapid growth. The debut of their Web site in 1998 has enabled Replacements Ltd. to stay at the top of the heap. Page said the Web site has close to 2 million visitors a month, accounts for 1,500 to 2,000 orders per day during the Christmas holiday season and is their biggest source of new customers.

“There are so many ways the Internet has helped us,” said Page. “We have thousands of pictures on our Web site. People who don’t know what pattern they have can go there and quickly identify it.”

Customers in need of a specific item can have instant notification as soon as it becomes available. “If you’re looking for a teapot in Syracuse Sherwood, and we have that listed in your file along with you e-mail address, our computer will automatically e-mail you the day one comes in. People love that service,” said Page.

Contemporary pieces are in demand as much or more so than traditional patterns. “Four or five years ago silverplate sales were neck and neck with stainless sales. This year, which ends Sept. 30, we’ve sold $1.4 million in silver plate, but we’ve sold $5.3 million worth of stainless,” said Page.
With many people wanting to sell china, sterling and silver plate they no longer use, Page said it’s a buyer’s market. “We’re constantly adjusting our prices. We probably lower five times as many retail prices as we increase,” he said.

When Vito and Mary Sico relocated from New Jersey to North Carolina, they were disappointed to find few antique markets. When dealer friends encouraged the couple to start an antique market, Mary found help from business associate Janet Hill. Hearing that Sico was looking for a site to stage a show, Hill volunteered her farm near Liberty.

“Knowing what a fine person she is, it was just a natural progression,” said Mary Sico. The Sicos and Hill have been promoting their semiannual Liberty Antiques Festival for the past 15 years. The show has grown from about 80 dealers to a near-capacity 400 at their spring show. “You wonder with the high price of gas and the war what will happen, but we’re nearly full,” said Mary.

Customers can expect an abundant amount of Americana, including Windsor chairs, tavern tables, cupboards, pottery and folk art, she said. Liberty Antiques Festival is the final Friday and Saturday in April and September. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $5.

When auctioneer Ted Hinson of Oakboro saw a neighbor’s farm for sale, he did not want it turned into a trailer park. He bought the property and renovated the run-down farmhouse, barn and outbuildings. Today it is the home of the semiannual Big Lick Antique Festival. The fall show will be Oct. 20-22. The spring show is the third weekend in April. Oakboro is located 32 miles east of Charlotte at the junction of North Carolina routes 132 and 748.

“We always get a couple hundred dealers. Last April’s show was good. I don’t know why a lot of people are saying shows are down. At my last two or three shows the dealers left here happy because they sold a lot of merchandise,” said Hinson, who has operated Hinson Auction Service for 43 years. Joining him in the family business is wife Janice and sons Eric and Jeffrey.

About 50 miles west of Asheville is the village of Dillsboro, which for the past four years has celebrated its mountain lifestyle with the Dillsboro Antiques Fair. This year’s show Oct. 7-9 featured 17 vendors along with a benefit auction. Proceeds from the auction will go to restore the historic Monteith homestead, which the village recently purchased for use as a historical museum. Activities take place on Front Street, which is closed off during the fair.

“We have several old bed-and-breakfast inns filled with antiques. The idea of the event is to experience a scenic mountain town that takes you back a century or so,” said Janet Chinners, a retired scientist who recently moved to North Carolina and became the owner of Country Traditions, an antique shop wes t of town on Haywood Road. Leslie Rojohn, one of the antique fair’s founders, has a shop in Dillsboro called Lighten Up, which promotes mountain living with a mix of contemporary accessories and rustic antiques.

In Asheville, Bruce Johnson presents the Arts & Crafts Conference at the historic Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. Scheduled for Feb. 16-18, 2007, the 20th annual event will again feature seminars by Arts & Crafts experts in the mornings and evenings and an antique and trade show in the afternoon.

“What usually happens is we reach our limit of 1,500 people for the conference in late January and then, depending on the weather, we’ll draw another 2,000 or so people for just the show,” said Johnson. The show features 50 antique dealers, 50 artisans or companies selling Arts & Crafts-style reproductions, and 25 publishers and book vendors. Admission to the show is $8.

For a taste of North Carolina’s shops, try Gresham Lake Antique Mall, which is located on the northeast side of Raleigh on U.S. Route 1 near the I-540 interchange. Owner Elizabeth Connell opened the mall in 1993 on the urging of prominent auctioneer Jim Hoy of Wake Forest.

“We advertise ‘an elegant little mall’ because we’re not as big as some in the area,” said Connell, who strives for diversification among the 35 to 40 dealers. “We don’t have a lot of high-end furniture because it’s hard to make a living in a mall that deals in only high-end things. We’re dealing with people who are collectors and traveling. We have many dealers who aim for collectors,” she said.

Connell credits manager Ginger Sabol for the mall’s unique look. “She has so much going for her with decorating and ideas. People comment that our mall looks different than most,” said Connell.

Settle Street Station Antiques has been in business since the mid-1990s in Reidsville, which is located between Greensboro and Danville, Va. Bobbie and Wayne Strider purchased the business and property in 1996. After renovating the former hardware store they have experienced little turnover at the 30-dealer mall.

“We have a good variety of antiques — it’s not a flea market mall,” said Bobbie Strider, who noted business this year has been down slightly. “The economy around here has not been good, but we’re hanging in there,” she said.

Jim Gant, a longtime UPS employee, said he always enjoyed stopping at antique malls while on the road. Looking for a career change, he bought the Hickory Antique Mall in 1994. The mall has 57 dealers and about 20,000 square feet of showroom space in a former A&P grocery at 348 U.S. Route 70 S.W. in Hickory, the heart of North Carolina’s furniture industry.

Though Gant said business has been down since 2001, he remained optimistic. “We had one of the best Julys in a long time,” said Gant, noting that local furniture and textile factories close for vacations the week of July Fourth. “We get more traffic because of the that,” he said.

“The nice thing about this business is you get to meet people from all over the country and you get to make their day. They’re often looking for certain items, looking a long time, and a lot of times they’ll find it here,” said Gant.