Michigan Antique Festival enjoying steady growth

MIDLAND, Mich. – Lori Oberlin lives by the mantra: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Four years after she purchased the Michigan Antique & Collectible Festival the state’s economy has gone nowhere but south, suffering the brunt of the United State’s worst recession since the Great Depression. Oberlin hasn’t regretted the move into show management and is, in fact, relishing the quest finding new ways to bring customers through the gate.

So far the efforts have been successful thanks to her relentless push to broaden the event’s appeal beyond antiques and collectibles.

Oberlin’s next show is Sept. 26-27 at the Midland County Fairgrounds; 2009 marks the 41st year of the event.

“Our spring show was off-the-charts busy,” Oberlin told Antique Trader, “and with the economy you could tell that something was going on but even though it was happening we had almost 30,000 people.”

The Michigan Antique Festival is a festival in every sense of the term. Exhibitor participation has grown to 1,000 booths and the event covers 80 acres. In September the festival will host an autograph signing from the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Series team. A variety of events and attractions ranging from coins, sports and old car auctions draw onlookers and collectors from across the state and beyond. Oberlin said attendees are traveling from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

One attraction in particular that started out as a courtesy to these “out of towners” has grown into a much-anticipated marketing venue for local companies. Oberlin partnered with Michigan’s Department of Agriculture to host a “Taste of Michigan” tent. The tent showcases the state’s wines, meats and baked goods and adds an interesting tactile layer to a day of shopping for antiques. In a small way it’s a boost to the overall economy and represents Oberlin’s pride in the area.

Capitalizing on the success of recent television reality shows, Oberlin held a swing-dancing contest and hosted ballroom dancing this summer.

For the last three years she has devoted one area of the grounds to a local auctioneer who sells vintage and antique cars.

With all that’s going on, the focus on the antiques and collectibles hasn’t wavered. Dealers feature a sweeping variety of items ranging from traditional antiques to primitives and Americana.

On the operational side Oberlin has introduced a few more innovations. Rather than hire scores of temporary workers to handle logistics, she works with 4-H organizations and various youth groups to organize parking or collect tickets at the gate. Groups earn thousands of dollars for local charities and take pride in providing friendly customer service. Oberlin’s son David manages the festival’s Web site (www.miantiquefestival.com) and graphic design while another son, Matthew, assists in setting up outdoor displays and during the event itself.

“We are trying stuff that’s out of the box – things other promoters aren’t doing,” she said. “We are attracting people to the festival and getting them to start collecting.

More information about the Michigan Antique & Collectible Festival is available by calling 989-687-9001 or at www.miantiquefestival.com.

General admission is $5, and a $15 “early bird” shopping ticket is available for Friday, Sept. 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.