Gurnee Antique Center looks to the future

GURNEE, Ill. – The Gurnee Antique Center, now more than 12 years old, is recognized as one of the more reputable antique malls in the greater Chicago area. Located 40 miles north of Chicago, it was built in the style of a large country barn.

Luan and Jerry Watkins built the mall as the culmination of a long-held dream. After successful business careers they wanted to build a dealer and public-friendly mall featuring wide aisles, great lighting, a library of reference books, and soft chairs for those needing to rest after a busy day of shopping (or for husbands just waiting for the shopping to be over).

Since opening, all of the 200 dealer spaces have been occupied, and there continues to be a waiting list. The mall does not compromise on its definition of “antique,” as all items displayed must be more than 50 years old.

The mall has 24,000 square feet, and each dealer decorates their own space in a distinctive style. Some dealers, who specialize in primitives, may have barn board siding, while others use paint or wallpaper.

General manager George Zukowski has held the position for about three years and previously held a similar position in New York.

Zukowski is optimistic about the future of the mall, and although 2009 was a slow year, things are looking much better for 2010. The first quarter of 2010 was 26 percent above the same period in 2009.

Although optimistic, Zukowski did feel there are changes in the antique marketplace. Victorian furniture remains “soft” and mid-century items are strong. There are also more people wishing to sell their antique items or looking for appraisals.

The “modern clean look is in, but the mall is not considering changing its requirement that all items must be an ‘antique,’” Zukowski said. The true key to the Center’s success is quality merchandise at affordable prices.

Ed McCann has been a dealer at Gurnee for eight years and has a variety of items, including wildlife, hunting and fishing collectibles, artwork and books related to wildlife, and — his specialty — duck decoys. He also is showing some toys including an American Flyer train with engine, cars, and track, made in 1927 with the original box and catalog. Priced at $6,500, he has been told he should ask more. He reports steady sales and is very hopeful for the future.

Marty Hanson has been a dealer since the Mall opened, 12 years ago. She specializes in unique and small furniture and anything “unusual.” In the center of her booth is a table-top RCA Victrola, in great condition, priced at $345. Marty felt last years was slow but has seen a “turn around” this year. “I think people are tired of being frugal,” was her comment. She also helps at the front desk part-time and has noticed more people bringing in items they would like to sell.

Mary Ellen Johnson has also been in the mall since the opening. She noted that her March sales this year were the second highest of any month since the mall opened. Asked about selling tips, she said, “Attractive display of items is essential and customers want to see different inventory. Many stop weekly at the mall and a changing presentation is essential.” She also believes the sales staff are knowledgeable and can answer questions or help customers locate particular items. She likes to have a prominent item in the center of her booth to attract buyer interest and motivate them to enter the booth. Serving this purpose is a Louis XV style dressing table with inlay work and a beveled mirror and cosmetic slots inside. It is priced at $1,500.

Found in the booth of Jim and Judy Konnerth is a 1920s National Cash Register, made in Dayton, Ohio. It could hold your money for $1,200. They specialize in toys and also have a number of Noah’s Ark sets — each more attractive than the next.

The Gurnee Antique Center is available for tour groups, private parties, educational groups, not-for-profit groups holding fund-raising meetings, or others as requested.

The Center can be contacted by calling 847-782-9094 or at George Zukowski, and all the personnel, are always ready to answer questions regarding GAC. ?


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