Last summer, facing the threat of canceling its annual convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Antique Advertising Association of America (AAAA) decided to make a bold move. Instead of disappointing its membership, the group decided to challenge it – by offering a virtual convention.
Sure, there were concerns that senior members of the group wouldn’t be interested in an online, Zoom-based get-together. But, as it turned out, those concerns were misplaced.
Instead of frightening off members, what convention organizer Paul Lefkovitz discovered was just the opposite: the virtual convention reinvigorated the club.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” Lefkovitz said. “We had good participation and we were floored by the response we received. It has engaged our base in a much fuller way. And a lot of people who thought they wouldn’t be able to participate actively in the organization anymore are now able to be active and enjoy it.
“I think more older people than we think are at least flirting with technology,” Lefkovitz said. “I remember four or five years ago the number of our members who did not have an email address was much larger than it is now. People are tipping their toes into the water and participating in these kinds of things.”
Which is why AAAA is offering a Winter Virtual Retreat January 23-24.
The first day of the Winter Retreat is for AAAA members only but the second day is open to the public. Access is available through the group’s website, www.pastimes.org. There is no fee for the event nor is registration necessary. While the group already has forty dealers lined up, they are actively seeking more. Dealers pay no commission or costs and don’t have to be AAAA members. They simply upload items for sale online and then work directly with buyers.
The success of the summer virtual convention, which had better participation than their in-person event, convinced Lefkovitz to move forward with a Winter Retreat. He believes other collecting clubs could mirror their success holding virtual events.
“The opportunity for members to attend, to be involved with other club members and not have to travel is really attractive for many,” Lefkovitz said. “With an older population that’s so important.”
The magnitude of the virtual convention was initially daunting but still very doable, Lefkovitz said.
“It was a little unnerving because it was a big event I was trying to replace with something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Lefkovitz said of the virtual convention. “I looked for experts within my immediate grasp. I couldn’t find anyone so I really had to rely on the Internet. I joined Zoom. They offer a lot of instructional material that are very helpful and there are a million helpful videos online. That’s the sum total of how I educated myself.”
The goal of the virtual event was to replicate as much of the normal convention as possible and to encourage participation through education, Lefkovitz said. For clubs considering a virtual convention, Lefkovitz stresses engaging members early.
“I would really encourage them to launch a campaign, not just send emails out, but launch a campaign to help people become comfortable engaging with the Internet. And that requires work,” Lefkovitz said.
In addition to the club’s monthly newsletter, Lefkovitz sent out a series of as many as ten emails to members about the virtual convention. Although careful not to bombard members with too many emails, Lefkovitz made an exception here.
“We wanted to make sure our members were comfortable with the idea of participating. It really was repeat exposure to the idea that you can do this.”
Lefkovitz’s message: getting involved in a virtual event is not difficult; there are people ready to assist you; there would be practice events; and virtual events are something a lot of people are doing these days.
“So it was really a lot of trying to diffuse the fear of the unknown,” Lefkovitz said. “And then providing people with lots of opportunities to try it out, to make mistakes, to learn.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that virtual events can be a part of any club’s programming; after all, learning is what ultimately drives all collectors.
AAAA WINTER RETREAT HIGHLIGHTS
Among a host of offerings, the Antique Advertising Association of America’s Virtual Winter Retreat will feature tours of two of the most impressive antique advertising collections in the country.
The virtual event January 23-24 will offers guided tours of Hook’s Drug Store Museum, Indianapolis, and W.R. Rudy Country Store and Drug Store Museum, Mount Airy, Maryland.
“If you had to put together a list of the five greatest places to visit for antique advertising and related items, these two would be on everyone’s list,” event coordinator Paul Lefkovitz said.
Hook’s Drug Store Museum is a treasure trove of wonderful historic imagery replicating a typical Indiana drugstore interior of the late 19th century – complete with authentic and historic medicines, cabinets, glassware, advertising and more.
The virtual tour by collecting experts Dan Russell and Bob Hunt highlights not only outstanding advertising signs, but also examples of fascinating medicinal containers, promotional items, glassware, figural pieces, and other items.
Hook’s Historic Drugstore and Soda Fountain opened in 1966 on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The Hook Drug Company, then owner of one of the largest Midwest drugstore chains in the Midwest (Hook’s Drugstores) sponsored the formation of the museum as part of the Indiana Sesquicentennial celebration of Statehood, celebrating the history of pharmacy and medicine. Today the Museum is one of the oldest, best-attended venues of its type in the country, with more than 3 million visitors welcomed since opening.
The W. R. Rudy Country Store & Drug Store Museum, a three-story brick building, showcases the incredible personal collection of AAAA member, auctioneer and tour guide Howard Parzow, who began collecting in 1972.
The Country Store features old counters, showcases, original packaging, early colorful advertising signs and hundreds and hundreds of items from a bygone era.
Along with live room hopping and breakout discussions, the retreat will feature a seminar by renowned artist and restorer Chuck Kovacic called “Up in Smoke,” a study of cigar-related advertising. A restoration expert and AAAA member, Kovacic has assisted serious advertising collectors and select auction houses for more than 40 years.
For more information on the Winter Retreat, contact Paul Lefkovitz, AAAA convention coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-594-0658. You can also find more information at www.pastimes.org.
FOR MORE ON ANTIQUE ADVERTISING SEE THE FEATURE ON JERRY PHELPS AND HIS AMAZING COLLECTION:
Jerry and Imogene Phelps with a late-19th century carved wooden cigar store Indian, part of his 10,000-piece antique advertising collection.