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Are Shows Still Worth the Effort?

by Tom Carrier (11/03/07).
A dealer setup for the DC Big Flea
A dealer setup for the DC Big Flea
Rick & Perry of collectorscompanion.com, reference guides for the collector
A Jello Paper Kite for sale at the DC Big Flea
Handmade flag for George Wallace, c. 1970 at the DC Big Flea


Just returned from the “D.C. Big Flea Market” at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA. This is a relatively big show held 5 weekends a year. With about 600 dealers, it really makes for a fun afternoon. Despite its name, this is anything but a flea market of tables piled with old clothes, books, and children’s toys. The high quality of furniture, antique items, glassware, and some many other great collectibles it really should be called the DC Antique Fair.

In January 2008, the DC Big Flea, as we call it around here, will celebrate its 10th anniversary. I attended early afternoon on the first day and it seemed busy, but not overly crowded. Just enough traffic to keep moving at a good pace. Back 10 years ago, according to a couple of dealers I talked to, the aisles were quite crowded and business was quite brisk. “It is nothing what it was like 10 years ago”, one veteran dealer told me. So, has your business dropped off. “Oh, yes, significantly. I’m not even sure it’s worth continuing.” Talking further, I found that the promoter, like all promoters, have raised their booth rates and shortened the traditional 10 x 10 space to 8.5 x 10 to pack in some more dealers.

As a booth co-owner at the Strasburg Emporium in Strasburg, VA, I mentioned that booth business in many of the traditional antique malls is down this year, including mine, and with the current economic and military situation isn’t really expected to recover any time soon. Yes, I was told, but the antique business has been dwindling every year for the past several years. Too many of our customers, I was told, are much older and many are retiring or just no longer collecting. There aren’t enough younger folks taking their places. In fact, he went on, many of the retirees are saying that the children and grandchildren really aren’t interested in Grandma’s collection of glassware or whatever either. What do you do with your collection then, he asked?

And Ebay. We just don’t want to go there, he said.

So, if the traditional fairs and the antique malls aren’t making the money and the traditional collectors are no longer in the collecting business for whatever reason and the young kids aren’t interested, what is the future of collecting? Perhaps WorthPoint can help as an online resource, but what about the items themselves?

How do we bring in younger folks to the world of collectibles? I ask you.

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