Oregon antiques businesses feels winds of change, and adapt

While East Coast and New England events traditionally vie for bragging rights to the title of “biggest antique show” — indoor or outdoor — the Great Northwest also has a claim to stake in that category, in the form of Palmer-Wirfs’ July 15-16 event held at the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center. “Probably the only other (outdoor) shows that would be bigger are the series of shows at Brimfield and, maybe, Round Top,” said Chris Palmer, owner of Palmer-Wirfs & Associates. “As far as indoor shows go, at 1,800 booths, we’re easily the largest show west of the Mississippi.”

Approximately 500 vendors set up outdoors at the July fair, while 1,350 are set up indoors. Smaller versions of the show (1,350 dealers) are staged at the Expo Center in early March and late October. “We’re working hard to keep it filled, but it’s filled,” said Palmer, adding that the show is in its 25th year. “Now we’re facing the threat of high fuel costs. It’s impacted airfares so we’re really focusing on our regional ad campaign and reaching out to the rest of the country through direct mail and industry publications.”

The July show will again feature approximately 200 booths devoted entirely to furniture, long with a wide selection of antiques and vintage collectibles, said Palmer. ISA-certified appraisers will be on hand to offer identification and evaluation. A charge of $4 per item will benefit the Portland Police Sunshine Division, a local food bank.

Guest speaker at the July show will be Shannon Quimby, host of the HGTV program My First Home and author of Color, Create Decorate. “She will present a vignette of how to decorate with found items … cool ways to put things together on a budget,” said Palmer.
“We’re after the 35- to 40-year-olds, so we offer things from the 1970s they relate to. Of course, the baby boomers are still buying nostalgic things,” said Palmer.

While Palmer-Wirfs’ show is certainly the biggest in the region, many smaller shows are held periodically around in the Beaver State. Look for the Salem Collectors Market, held monthly in Columbia Hall at the Oregon State Fairgrounds; the Oregon Trail Antique Show at the Crook County Fairgrounds in Prineville in February; and the American Association of University Women Antique Show at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls on Sept. 19-20. The Pacific Northwest Fenton Association sponsors its annual Antique Glass and Pottery Show in late March in Hillsboro. Historic Brownsville in the scenic Willamette Valley will hold its annual Antique Faire downtown on Aug. 5.

Interesting antique malls abound in Oregon. Lafayette Schoolhouse Antique Mall in rural Lafayette, 35 miles southwest of Portland on state Highway 99W, is housed in a three-story school built in 1913. Opened in 1988, Lafayette Schoolhouse Antique Mall has 100 dealers whose inventory of antiques and collectibles fills eight classrooms and adjoining coatrooms.

“This year hasn’t been as good as 2005, but we’re plugging along,” said manager Cricket Propp, who is looking forward to a busy season. “This is wine country and we have a lot of tourists that come through in the summertime.”

Lafayette Schoolhouse Antique Mall is owned by John Regan, who also owns antique malls in Centralia and Snohomish, Wash. Next door in the old school’s gymnasium is Rick’s Antiques, which stocks European furniture.

Don’t be mistaken by the name Little Antique Mall in Lincoln City. It is the largest antique center on the Oregon coast and one of the largest in the state, claim owners Dave Beck and Rick Erissette. “We’re up this year, but it’s been feast or famine. We’re enjoying success now,” said Beck, who gained an appreciation for antiques while working on old homes in New England before moving back to his home state. “I had a chance to resettle here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Beck and Erissette opened Little Antique Mall eight years ago in a former hardware store and lumberyard. The shop is open daily except for Christmas and “an occasional ice storm,” said Beck.

Uncertain economic factors have prompted some traditional bricks-and-mortar antique stores to switch totally to Internet sites. Among them are John and Kristin Noveske, former proprietors of Grants Pass Antique Mall, now doing business as www.oldstuff.com.

For travelers passing through the area on Interstate 5, Kristin Noveske recommended Blue Moon Antiques, which is located in the 1890 Sherer-Judson Building, the oldest building in the historic district of downtown Grants Pass. While owner Ward Warren stocks his 2,500-square-foot store with a general line, he is sure to have a selection of his favorite items such as coin-op machines, old phonographs, advertising, toys and art.

“I look for the best of everything,” said Warren. “Good condition and quality at a fair price; that’s kept us going for 20 years.” Warren said business has improved. “It’s a lot better than it was after 9/11, that’s for sure,” he said. “I have good local customers and get a lot of travelers,” said Warren, noting that when he opened there was only one other antique shop in town. Now there are about 20 in the area.

A traditional mail-order company that has moved to e-commerce is Polansky Wholesale in Sisters, Ore., which specializes in advertising collectibles. Kylie Tigard and Lisa Baker bought the company from their father, Tom Polansky, two years ago. He remains involved in the business as their buyer.

“It’s actually wholesale and everything is 100-percent authentic and guaranteed. We’re really the only company left in the country that deals in bulk advertising,” said Tigard, adding that their father’s long involvement in antique advertising circles continues to generate inventory.

“All of the items on the Web site – www.polanskywholesale.com – or in the catalog are multiple items, up to 10,000 of each. On some items we’re down to our last 10 because of dad has had them 10 or 20 years,” said Tigard. “We deal in the market that customers can turn around and make a profit at a good price. That’s how we gear the Polansky Wholesale business: to remain wholesale, to remain low and to relay some fun items people are still interested in buying,” she said.

Another way of buying at wholesale prices is at auction. Wayne Liska of Grants Pass founded Liska & Associates 30 years ago. As a full-service auctioneer, Liska sells everything from antiques to real estate, either on-site or at the Josephine County Fairgrounds in Grants Pass. His next antique auction will be July 8-9 at the fairgrounds.

“Oak furniture is doing really well. Toys are good,” said Liska. “Anything that’s good quality and good condition will do well if it’s properly advertised.”

Ordinarily Liska conducts auctions on the weekend, but his heavy schedule is dotted with weekday auctions. “It makes no difference. If you have good merchandise you can bring people any time of the week,” he said.