NY State malls helping shoppers justify purchases

PENFIELD, N.Y. – Consumers continue to buy the vintage kitchen items – some dating to the Great Depression of the 1930s – that Mary Merz has on display in her booth at the All That Jazz Antique Co-op in Penfield.

But some shoppers for antiques and collectibles have adjusted to today’s economic realities by seeking items of a practical value.

“People want to justify their purchase,” said Merz, 69, of Penfield.

An old-fashioned juicer, which with a quick turn of the hand can squeeze the juice out of half of an orange, is likely to sell faster than a pricey decorative vase.

Still others continue to shop for collectibles at this kind of mall because, after they pay for their bread-and-butter essentials, they want to satisfy their appetite for hobbies.

“I usually buy on impulse,” said Steve Zaremba, 39, of Geneseo, who recently bought two used license plates – one from Georgia, the other from Indiana – for a total of $7 at Ontario Mall Antiques in Farmington.

Outlets for collectibles and antiques gained a firm foothold in the Rochester area a couple of decades ago. While some of these malls have closed over the years, the surviving ones seem to be weathering the recession.

“People are passionate about collecting,” said Marie Zenkel, 67, who previously sold at antique shows before opening All That Jazz with business partner Carol Annalora 11 years ago.

Sales are down a bit, but antiques and collectibles continue to be a draw at All That Jazz, which rents space to about 100 vendors in a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building on Empire Boulevard.

Selling antiques and collectibles differs from the typical business because these goods are not produced to meet demand. Rather, such items are passed on or sold from one generation to another. They can be put on the market for any number of reasons, which makes an educated consumer all the more important.

“Understand what is a good value,” said Joseph Miller, assistant professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Bill Guche started Ontario Mall Antiques 17 years ago. He previously sold used cars to dealers and started out with 12 antiques dealers renting a part of what now houses almost 1,000 dealers in a 31,000-square foot complex on Route 332. Most rent display cases for $50 a month, while booths, depending on the size, typically go for $165.

“For the seller, it provides a place where they can set up without paying a lot,” Guche said.

The $2.3 million in sales that dealers at Guche’s mall made last year was about the same as the year before. Storewide monthly sales are coupled with discounts given by individual vendors to help draw customers.

Brion Phelps, 64, of Ogden went on a recent scouting trip to Guche’s mall in search of Hull Pottery, which is known for its textured glazes and earthy colors.

“I’m a pottery junkie,” said Phelps, a retired Rochester police officer who purchased a vase and small pitcher to add to his collection.
The 400,000 items that Guche says are on display at his mall over the course of a year range from antique furniture to a can of “Genuine Los Angeles Smog.”

Gary and Sharon Merrill of Canandaigua, who showcase items ranging from Lesney miniature vehicles to English bone china, have downsized their displays at Ontario Mall Antiques with the recession.

Their sales over the past two years at this mall were about 40 percent below their 2005 high, so the Merrills went from renting four display cases to two and continue to rent a booth from Guche.

But the Merrills are now considering renting another display case.

“I feel like it’s on a comeback,” said Gary Merrill.