Virginia: All roads lead to antiques

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader

Travelers are never far from antiques in Virginia. With all its historic sites, the Old Dominion has just as many places to go antiquing.

Just 10 minutes from downtown Williamsburg, the capital of Colonial Virginia, is Williamsburg Antique Mall, which is celebrating its ninth anniversary this summer.

Maggie Rawlings has been the manager since it opened. “Mike Brown, the owner, is a builder. Friends in the antique business convinced him to build a mall because this was a good area to have one. We’re in a good location, halfway between the beach and Richmond. It’s a historic area and a tourist area,” said Rawlings.

Williamsburg Antique Mall has 45,000 square feet of showroom space and 400 dealers in a region loaded with attractions. Located at 500 Lightfoot Road, off U.S. Route 60 and State Route 199, Williamsburg Antique Mall is close to Williamsburg Pottery. 
On the far side of the state, Rocky’s Antique Mall in Weyers Cave opened in 1969. “We started in antiques first and did really good,” said owner Rocky Simonetti. In 1980 he opened Rocky’s Gold and Silver, which sells sterling silver flatware and gold jewelry. Among his flatware customers are former First Lady Barbara Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and many members of Congress.

“We sell a lot of good furniture, like pie safes and corner cupboards … a lot of local primitives,” said Simonetti. “We have Royal Bayreuth, Meissen and Wave Crest – all that type stuff too.” Rocky’s Antique Mall contains 100 showcases. The mall is located off Interstate 81, Exit 235, west of U.S. Route 11.

The Great Strasburg Emporium Antiques has been in operation since 1979 in a 100-year-old former textile mill. “They made silk for casket linings. During World War II they produced parachutes,” said David Malbuff, who has owned the mall for two years.

Malbuff said business has been up and down in the months leading up to his busy season, which is late June to Christmas. “That’s when tourists come to the (Shenandoah) Valley,” he said.

“Civil War items – genuine relics and commemoratives,m – are reliable and consistent sellers because we get so many Civil War-oriented travelers,” said Malbuff. He added that furniture sales had increased in June and vintage kitchen items are always in demand.
The Great Strasburg Emporium Antiques, which has 100 dealers, is located in Strasburg, off Interstate 81, Exit 298, on U.S. Route 11 South.

Far to the west is Wytheville, where I-77 and I-81 intersect. “We’re sort of in the center of the eastern United States, where people come from the East to go to the Smokies and people come from the Midwest to go to the coast,” said Ron Kime, owner of Old Fort Antique Mall, one of four large malls within a three-mile stretch. “We’re one of the few areas in Virginia where you can look at antiques all day without having to drive a lot,” said Kime.

“We’re down a little bit from last year, but business is pretty stable. We’re getting hit by gas but not as bad as some places because we’re known for having better gas prices than just about anywhere. Gas in this area is $2.64 a gallon,” said Kime (on June 30).

Thirty-five miles south of Wytheville on U.S. Route 58 is Hillsville, which every Labor Day weekend is the site of one of the biggest flea markets east of the Mississippi. The four-day event features approximately 2,500 vendors and boasts attendance of nearly 300,000 people. VFW Post 1115 has been sponsoring the Labor Day Gun Show & Flea Market since the late 1960s.

Ruckersville, located 18 miles north of Charlottesville, is staking its claim as a destination, now that Antiquer’s Mall has moved to its new building at 8287 Seminole Trail. Six other antique stores are located near the junction of U.S. routes 33 and 29. Michael and Lil Worley opened Antiquer’s Mall in 1990 and have more than 100 dealers and a waiting list of many more. When completed, there will be a coffee shop and shipping service on the premises.

“People can come out for a day of antiquing and find plenty to interest them, everything from low and medium antiques to several high-end dealers,” said Kurt Wolter, who manages the mall’s eBay store and Internet sales.

Auctions continue to be a prime source for antiques in Virginia and vicinity. Weschler’s has been a fixture in downtown Washington, D.C., since 1890. While Weschler’s major catalog auctions, held September through April, are in sync with the schedules of New York auction houses, their regular auctions every Tuesday can be an unexpected treat.

“You’re going to find anything that could have been made yesterday to items 200 years old. There are times when consignors just can’t wait for a particular season or sale, so we have to put it in a weekly sale,” said Thomas M. Weschler, who joined the family firm as an auctioneer in 1973.

A relative newcomer in the area is Quinn’s Auction Galleries, which was founded in 1995 in Falls Church. Since a fire destroyed their auction house on July 1, 2001, the Quinn’s have built a new facility and increased their staff from three to about 20 people. In January 2004 Quinn’s acquired Waverly Auctions, which specializes in rare books, prints, maps and autographs.

“We have five major catalog sales annually between September and June,” said Matthew Quinn, who joined his family’s company shortly after the 2001 fire. “The fire provided an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. That reinvention gave us the momentum to grow as fast as we did.”

An example of Quinn’s success was the June 17 sale of a Ben Austrian painting of a hen and a dozen chicks that brought $37,375 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium), in spite of its needing some restoration. “Considering its condition, (it) did very well,” said Quinn.

Gail Wolpin launched a second career by founding her auction gallery in 1992 in the quaint waterfront community of Phoebus, which is part of Hampton. The daughter of a Pennsylvania merchant, Wolpin conducts many on-site sales around the Tidewater area as well as auctions twice a month at Phoebus Auction Gallery at 18 E. Mellen St.

Successful auction houses are not always located in Virginia’s cities. “People really enjoy coming out of the metropolitan areas to attend the gallery in the country,” said Jeffrey S. Evans of Green Valley Auctions Inc. in Mount Crawford. His parents, Leighton and Kathryn Evans, founded the auction service as a way for local people to dispose of items they no longer needed, and to settle small estates.

“Farmers used to bring in produce, chickens and things like that, and we’d sell them,” said Evans, who has headed the family-held corporation since 1979. Brother Gregory L. Evans joined the business full time in 1985. The following year Green Valley moved from an old barn to a new auction facility on the 100-acre family farm. They expanded the facility to a 20,000 square-foot, multigallery complex in 1997.

Green Valley Auctions made headlines in November 2004 with the sale of a Johannes Spitler hanging cupboard, which made $962,500 (inclusive of 10 percent buyer’s premium), a record price for American painted furniture.

“That was a once in a lifetime thing,” said Evans. “It was found within two miles of where it was made in Page County. It had never left the area and had only been in two houses its entire life.”
Green Valley Auctions is also widely known for its auctions of early American glass, a category in which Evans has long taken a personal interest. Green Valley Auctions conducts six cataloged sales each year, three of which are devoted to glass, two to Americana and one to Victoriana.

Thanks to frequent appearances on the Antiques Roadshow, Ken Farmer of Radford may be more widely recognized than any of his fellow Virginia auctioneers. “It has enabled me to network with many people in the trade who I can call on for their expertise,” said Farmer, who is considered an authority in furniture and folk art.

Farmer conducts actions at select sites across the state. At a recent auction in Virginia Beach, he sold a fine pair of Minton cachepots, about 7 inches tall, for $21,850 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium). “The best merchandise is bringing super-high prices at auctions,” said Farmer.

Shenandoah Antiques Expo is billed as the best indoor/outdoor market in the Mid-Atlantic region. The three-day show is held the first weekend in May and the second weekend in October near Fishersville at the Augusta County Expoland.

“We work hard and have been able to keep the quality high,” said Mary Ferguson of Heritage Promotions. The show’s emphasis is on Americana and high-style country furniture. The 39th Shenandoah Antiques Expo will be Oct. 13-15.

D’Amore Promotions, based in Virginia Beach, produces five antique markets, three of which are in Virginia. The biggest is the D.C. Big Flea Market at the Dulles Exposition and Convention Center in Chantilly. Held five times a year, the next D.C. Big Flea will be July 22-23. The Richmond Big Flea Market will be Aug. 5-6 at the Richmond Raceway Complex. The Virginia Beach Big Flea Market will be Aug. 25-27 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. D’Amore Promotions also holds Virginia’s largest doll show every November in Richmond.