The Great Annual Dealer Migration to the South!
Some antique dealers dig in, while other fly south with the geese…
Springtime at the Arundel Maine flea market! Lots of estate fresh antiques.
Here in New England, as summer nights call for a sweater for the first time in months, some of us hail the approaching autumn with joy, while others dread the slushy mess of winter so much that they can’t even enjoy the brilliant fall leaves. For an antiques or flea market dealer, seasonal business plans are as varying as local opinions on the changing seasons. Those business plans and selling strategies are tied tightly to three things:
- Whether or not the dealer owns a property up north that they need to keep operational.
- What the dealer sells and what their current inventory is.
- Where the dealer actually wants to spend their winter!
People who make their living buying and selling antiques and collectibles, live by many unwritten rules and, as a result, live in many “grey” areas. There are people who sell “junk,” and their selling place is the back of their stuffed minivan or a beat up Winnebago, which they actually live in like a traveling gypsy. There are other dealers, however, who may have a permanent home address in Maine, then when the first hard frost hits, they cram everything they can pack into the trailer, and hit a few shows or flea markets down in the Mid Atlantic that they’ve done for years. After that adventure, they might set up for a week in Virginia beach as the weather gets cooler, living out of their trailer along the way.
Webster’s is one of the oldest operating outdoor flea markets in Florida. There are several outdoor flea markets in Florida, some open seven days a week, year round.
As the cold weather closes in, the migrating dealer hopefully has a friend or relative they spend the winter with somewhere in Florida. If sales have done well on the way down, this can be a time to reboot and recharge, and get caught up on laundry, and actually enjoy some sun! But it can be a rough lifestyle, and can be a gamble for sure. If you’re doing it to get rich quick, good luck. People who live this lifestyle are generally people who enjoy the unexpected, as well as meeting new people. And of course you’ll hear urban legends about that “rare oil painting that showed up at a flea market in Sarasota” from time to time. One has to assume that most are fish tales, but I’m sure that it does happen!
The famous and gigantic Renningers flea market is one of many markets in Volusia County Florida. Many, many “non-antique” dealers at these Florida markets, but there are antiques mixed in if you hunt for them. Sometimes that’s where the bargains are found.
Many other dealers aren’t risk takers at all, and have a plan completely mapped out, which they have honed down and perfected over the years. There are as many of these “seasonal business plans” as there are antique dealers, so let me just give you a winter season plan for a fictional dealer, as a fairly good depiction of a typical scenario you’ll come across:
Very often, the dealer owns a separate part time unrelated business, and does the antiques selling on the side. So lets say “Mary” lives in New Hampshire, and has an online food consulting business she does from home. She may deal in antique linens and fabrics on the side, because she’s collected them her whole life, and loves dealing in them.
So over the years, she’s developed an inventory which has grown and grown, is stored in the garage, and seems to get bigger each year! She buys her linens at local estate auctions, and sets up to sell on occasional summer weekends at local flea markets, when her consulting is slow. She may set up at one or two big local antique flea markets or fairs, but only if she knows it’s a money maker, and a well-run show.
Then she may have mapped out a trip South for after Christmas; she hits a one day show in Philadelphia, then one in Atlanta a few days later, visiting a friend or two along the way. Then in January, her family may have a time share in Myrtle Beach, which she uses as a “base” to enjoy some vacation time, but sort of “pays for it” by hitting and setting up at a run of shows that she has set up for years, one each in Orlando, Fort Meyers, Naples, and Fort Lauderdale.
If the shows are good shows, and she has some good fresh inventory to sell, she may make a couple thousand dollars at each show. That makes for a nice warm winter! And each year, her operating expenses go down as she gets more efficient. Eventually, she knows all the back roads and short cuts, and knows exactly what will sell, and what won’t, so she’s not hauling around any dead weight inventory.
Then of course, there are the classic Yankee diehards, who dig in and sell here in New England straight through the winter. Maybe they like shoveling snow, maybe they like spreading salt, and re-stocking the pot belly stove with wood. But they’ll often have a year round lease, or they own a building and need to bring in sales there year round. For some dealers it is dreadfully slow, and if you sit with them for a while in their shop, they will complain and complain and complain. But they’ll do it with a salty New England charm.
There are others though, who do just fine staying North for the winter, thank you very much. After all, by February, there is not a lot to do around here, and they have a captive audience. The outdoor shows up here run generally from May to October, with a lighter schedule for indoor shows through the off season. These winter shows are usually higher end shows, and are really well run. If you’re going to put in the risk and money to run an indoor show, you can’t be selling “junk,” as they say.
Rachel Gurley operates Gurley Antiques Gallery in Scarborough, Maine, and she runs some of the best year round shows you’ll find in the area.
One of these successful proprietors is Rachel Gurley who operates Gurley Antiques Gallery in Scarborough, Maine, and runs some of the best year round shows you’ll find in the area. You can find her calendar of upcoming events on her website. I can attest that if I see a show advertised in the area, and Rachel has set it up, it will be a well-run show. Her shows really are unique, with a variety of vendors offering good fresh stuff, to a wide ranging clientele.
I contacted Rachel, who told me, ” Success in today’s market is having something for everyone. Local advertising as well as multi-media advertising really pays off! And in the winter, we have both returning customers and new customers who are just dying to get out of the house.”
So while some dealers just go into hibernation for the winter, and hang out in the old barn by the wood stove, mending nets, others hit the road for warmer climates. And, thankfully, if you look in the right places, there’s a schedule of antiques shows that brave the weather up North, and there are shops that will keep the home fires burning to be open for wheeling and dealing antiques, as long as the roads are plowed!
Bram Hepburn collects 19th-century New England bottles and glass, having spent the last 30 years digging and diving for bottles in New England and upstate New York. He has just founded an estate liquidation company and auction house, Hepburn and Co. Antiques in Eliot, Maine. You can send an email to him at email@example.com.
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