Nothing epitomizes antiquing in New England like a trek to Maine. Just ask people who were raised there and chose to remain, or those who migrate there to set up business.
“It’s just been a way of life. It’s best for what I specialize in,” said Randy Inman of Randy Inman Auctions Inc. Although Inman conducts auctions mainly in Allentown, Pa., his base of operation is Waterville, to be close to his and his wife’s families.
Fascinated with antiques all his life, Inman worked 11 years for an auctioneer before stepping out to found his auction business seven years ago. His specialties include toys, advertising and coin-operated machines, but on the first weekend in November he will conduct an auction loaded with fine art, antique watches and general line antiques.
“It’s been a good year and 2007 is rocking. We have two toy collections for March and are already working on two or three other collections for next summer and fall,” said Inman.
James D. Julia grew up in the antique trade in the 1960s beside his auctioneer-dealer father, Arthur Julia. James bought the auction service in 1974 and built it into one of the leading houses in New England. Driven to become bigger, Julia discovered a way to do so without moving to a metropolitan area.
“I have always lived in central Maine. My friends are here, my banking connections, my labor force, etc.,” said Julia. He eventually came upon the idea of a fellow Down-Easter, L.L. Bean, the widely known mail-order outfitter.
“They marketed a quality product through a good catalog and warranted their product,” said Julia. “The idea of taking the product to my client in a catalog and adding something most auctioneers do not do – that is offer some kind of a warranty – seemed to me a means of taking my goods to the world without having to leave Maine.”
Since the mid-1980s, Julia has been conducting specialty auctions, now represented in four groups: firearms, antiques and fine art, lamps and glass, and toys, dolls and advertising. Julia employs about 30 expert consultants who catalog the auctions. “That way we can provide a competent description what will allow us to guarantee goods without being inundated with all kinds of returns,” said Julia.
Julia’s vision for growth is to continue improving the quality of merchandise he sells. “The clientele we’ve developed tends to be affluent. We’ve worked hard to develop relationships of trust. These people are used to coming to us and bidding aggressively and paying a lot of money for really good quality things,” said Julia.
Prime examples are his antique firearms auctions, the last three of which have approached or exceeded the $9 million mark. His two-day gun auction in March grossed $9 million with only 1,000 lots.
Cyr Action Co. in Gray, midway between Portland and Lewiston, conducts sales on most Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. Most are estate liquidations, but owner Jim Cyr makes time for specialty auctions of Americana, Victoriana, fine arts, advertising and toys.
“This year has been good, but you have to work hard to keep the quality up and maintain a constant flow of interesting things,” said Cyr, who started out as a picker and dealer in 1969. “We work very hard on these areas: contacting collectors and dealers, making sure all the law firms in New England know of us, and that when we have a lead we follow it.” Cyr and his five full-time employees work out of a 10,000-square-foot facility that has climate-controlled storage, offices, library and two auction galleries.
As for Maine’s status in the antiques trade, consider that the Maine Antique Dealers Association is the oldest such group in the country. Nancy Glazer, president of the MADA, said their long-running antique show has been rejuvenated by a switch from late July – preceding antique week in New Hampshire – to mid-September.
“Last year was the first time we had it in September and it made an amazing difference for the dealers. It had a great gate and a great buzz,” said Glazer, adding that the 77th annual show Sept. 16-17 in Portland is expected to top last year’s event.
Because the indoor show is limited to 70 member dealers, MADA founded the Coastal Maine Antique Show nine years ago to expand participation and create an event for the end of summer. The indoor/outdoor show held at the Round Top Center for the Arts in Damariscotta the Wednesday before Labor Day is always well attended, said Glazer.
“A lot of people are on holiday the last week in August so we have it the Wednesday before Labor Day. People are looking for things to do. Maybe it’s not a warm enough day to sail or swim. So let’s go to the antique show,” she said.
“What’s charming about the show is you can meander. There are dealers in open fields, under four tents, in a barn and in a workshop. It has the element of surprise that’s always fun,” said Glazer.
Like many Maine antique dealers, Glazer and her husband, Jim, have a shop that is open by appointment. They live on Bailey Island across Casco Bay from Portland. The community is connected to the mainland by a bridge built in the 1940s.
The Maine Antiques Festival at the fairground in Union is billed as the largest show in northern New England. It is the oldest of three shows in the state presented by Coastal Promotions Inc. The 25th annual Maine Antiques Festival, held Aug. 12-13, had 125 dealers set up inside and about 200 dealers outdoors.
“We lucked out with under-70-degree weather, which is the first time that’s happened in 25 years. We had a full show. We did a lot of advertising and got a great crowd,” said promoter and show founder Paul Davis.
“It’s still a show that dealers can sell to people they don’t see elsewhere. Most of the people shop this show are summer residents and tourists from all over. They’re pretty much an educated clientele who knows what they want and aren’t afraid to pay for it,” said Davis. Coastal Promotions also produces the Rockport Antiques and Art Show in July and the Bar Harbor Antiques Show in early August.
Coastal towns along U.S. Route 1 are dotted with antique stores. Wiscasset, a historic shipbuilding town on the Sheepscot River, is now widely known as an antique center. Among the first dealers to set up shop there in the early 1970s were Patricia Stauble and her mother, Doris Stauble, who recently put her house on Main Street on the market and moved into an assisted living facility.
“I really learned the business from Mom,” said Patricia. “She was known for folk art and country. She had the shop we started in Wiscasset in the early ‘70s. We were the early innovators of early country in town.”
Patricia opened a shop in five rooms of her 1784 home on Main Street in 1979. Her room settings include a broad range of Americana including early country furniture with original paint surface, folk art and textiles.
“I analyzed that Wiscasset is such an early, beautiful town it would be the place to have an antique shop because you’re going through a historical village. Most times a highway doesn’t go through a beautiful time like this,” said Patricia, adding there were only one or two shops in town in the early ‘70s.
Patricia Stauble Antiques & Associates keeps regular hours during the summer and by chance or appointment in the spring and fall. She said it does not pay to open the shop during January and February because of the snow and cold.
Priscilla Hutchinson became one of a growing number of dealers to recognize Wiscasset’s potential in the 1970s. “When I made a change I knew I wanted to have a full-time antiques business and wanted to be in a coastal town in New England. Wiscasset had a lot of good dealers so it made sense to be here,” said Hutchinson, who came from Attleboro, Mass.
She lives in a 1790 house, and Priscilla Hutchinson Antiques occupies the adjacent carriage house that dates to 1850. “I carry mostly Americana, pre-1850, furniture in paint and folk art. I like New England things,” said Hutchinson, who has been a fixture on Pleasant Street for some 30 years.
A growing number of group shops may be a trend in Maine. One of the newest and largest is Avalon Antiques Market in Wiscasset, which opened in June 2005. Owner Bill Belmore said that when he and Pam Matthews started dating six years ago they discovered they shared an interest in antiques. He said they eventually became partners in life and business.
“We were looking in this general area because I was living here at the time and knew this part of Route 1 was heavily traveled and Wiscasset had many antique shops,” said Belmore. When a prime business location on U.S. Route 1 became available, Belmore and Matthews accelerated their plans to open an antique center.
“We had been in a couple of group shops as dealers so we had a sense of what to expect. Because I traveled in my work I was able visit a lot of shops in New England, saw what I liked and didn’t like in how they were run and what they had in merchandise,” said Belmore.
Avalon Antiques Market has a full complement of about 100 dealers and 11,000 square feet of showroom space. “A lot of customers like to go into the bigger shops and do one-stop shopping,” said Belmore. He credits Matthews “for understanding what it takes to make this place look good and how to identify good dealers.”
Caren and Frank Reed left professional careers to follow their dreams of owning a multidealer antique shop in Maine. Caren, an attorney from New Jersey, and Frank, an automotive executive from Connecticut, opened Reed’s Antiques & Collectibles 11 years ago in Wells. “We felt Route 1 in Wells was one of the most heavily traveled areas in the state and felt it would be a good place for our business,” said Caren.
“The first four or fire years was really a hustle and bustle; thousands of people coming through the shop annually. Since then it’s like a whole down cycle,” said Frank.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in tourists this year, which had been steadily declining,” said Caren. “It’s mild, not major. It’s not back to what it was six years ago.”
The Reeds have about 75 dealers in a 4,000-square-foot store they built especially for the business. Caren said the space is equally divided between locked showcases, open spaces and “cubbies.”