Writer and Researcher
Amy Gale
Auctions & Shows Writing Samples
amygale@amygale.com 212-787-5971
“No Need for Federal Bailout at Stella Pier Show,” AntiqueWeek 41 (January 12, 2009), N7-N9. Surprise! The antiques trade is alive and—if not exactly flourishing—there seems to be no need for a federal bailout—yet.  That, in any case, was the conclusion to be drawn from the Pier Antiques Show on November 15 and 16, 2008. Thousands flocked to the sprawling hangar that is the Pier 92 passenger ship terminal, where hundreds of dealers had spread out their wares.  And, in many cases, they bought.  The normalcy was reassuring, after months of apocalyptic gloom-mongering.  “It’s just another show,” said some dealers. But let’s not get carried away.  The happy dealers were the ones with lowered expectations.  In the credit-crunch idiom, “a good fair” means “recovering costs.” “We’ve crossed over to the profitable side,” said one gratified dealer a few hours before the show closed.    But even squeaking by was out of reach for many.  The booksellers and picture dealers were sunk in gloom. “I have not sold one expensive thing and only a few inexpensive ones,” said a specialist in Victorian painting, which is a market that, even before the crisis, was hardly overheated. Still, things could be worse. Especially resilient were the out-of-town dealers, like Michigander Rob Rozycki, who hailed from regions familiar with hardship. His response to the crisis: Rent a bigger truck. Sure, New York is going through some tough times, but there’s more money floating around Manhattan than Royal Oak, Michigan, where his Midcentury shop, Vertu, is located. “We brought more stuff.”  A longtime Pier Show veteran, he was satisfied with the weekend. “At this point it’s not about making money but keeping the door open,” he said realistically. Alfred Cali of Cleveland Heights, Ohio was another stoical Midwesterner.  “There are ups and downs,” he said drawing on decades of experience.  Even in down times, however, the Pier Show is worth the trip: “In New York people come to buy.”  While some dealers have staked their whole professional life on the antiques market, others are second- careerists, looking for an enjoyable occupation after decades of toil in business or law.  The latter group tends to be blessed with an insulated detachment from crushing economic news.   John Ribar of New York, for example, was a part-time dealer before he retired from an unrelated job.  He still does a couple shows a year “just for fun,” selling small odds and ends.  He was nonplussed by the financial turmoil.  “It’s been a good show, like old times,” he said.  Another latecomer is Lisa Gaffney of Terra Mare Antiques in New York City.  After three years in the trade, she remains cheerful and optimistic.  “It’s been a very good show—surprisingly good.” In the sociological musings that are part of any show wrap-up, dealers tried to identify who was missing.  The Europeans—the deep-pocketed connoisseurs, who were flooding American shows a few years ago—are no longer a presence.  The dollar has recovered sufficiently to discourage many transatlantic shoppers. Another figure of nostalgia was 401(k) Man. The designation has an anthropological ring, which makes him sound like a forgotten evolutionary link from the Paleolithic period. In fact, as recently as a few months ago, there were sightings of 401(k) man loping across salerooms.  Dealer Mark Kaplan of Long Beach, New York describes his principal traits: Aged 50 to 60, financially secure, and openhanded. “His wife would say, ‘Look at that!” and he would say, ‘Get it, honey,’” Kaplan recalls.  That impulsiveness seems to be a thing of the past. “There was a lot of taking my card and going home to measure,” according to poster specialist Nancy Steinbock of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  But the need for reflection did not always mean a lost sale. “The ‘be backs’ do come back,” said Harry Knoch of Harry & Ginny’s Antiques in Brookhaven, New York. Discounts were often necessary though to coax customers to open their wallets. “It makes sense to go home with money instead of merchandise,” Knoch said. Selling down, however, was not popular. In fact, many dealers assumed that the low-end buyer was wiped out and put their efforts into selling to the middle and high-end buyer.  “I can sell a $500 cup and saucer more easily than a $50 one,” said porcelain specialist Judith Ravnitzky of Mahopac, New York. Dealer sales were a disappointment. Pre-show jitters dampened the customary booth hopping and shopping. And despite the better than expected weekend, dealers remained cautious about buying more stock.  As someone joked, however, there may have been few trade sales, but “everyone got trade prices.” Thank heaven for the decorators.  With other dealers hanging back and the private collector shell shocked, it was the decorators who helped many dealers patch together “a good show.” They were the customers for Kaplan’s crystal chandeliers and sconces.  How much longer they’ll be propping up the antiques trade is a matter for speculation. Despite the uncertainty, there was hopeful talk.  Gaffney recalled customers saying that while their sheaves of mutual fund statements are worth nothing, they still have the beautiful antiques they’ve bought over the years.  And some dealers anticipate that the frustration and boredom from the unrelenting bad news will induce a reaction.  At some point, the theory goes, collectors will reject caution and austerity and go back to insouciant spending. For glass-half-full types there were enough decent sales and optimism to conclude that things are going to turn out okay. Maybe.