In the “Incurable Collector Antiques” store, a Columbia University student majoring in journalism was interviewing the owner when I was there. The owner stated that the future of the antiques business is online. With a click of a mouse, more people can have access to the inventory.
Certainly the cost of building a website or like the owner of the Incurable Collector Antiques to use some online services is relatively small. And it for sure reaches out the potential customers. Through website more customers may get to know such stores and come to visit the stores. (Not accidentally, I found out these places by typing “antique strip brooklyn” in google.) Furthermore, some transaction may happen directly online. The owner of Repeat Performance Antiques is now using GoAntiques to sell stuff. And David Marshall, the owner of the Antique Rooms, now owns a second website (http://www.americanandenglishantiques.com/) which utilizes the new flash technology to create online portfolios. Thirdly, with the sharp increase, a lot of stores cannot keep business at where they are now; but an online store makes the choice of location less important.
Still, will the internet change the downturn of the antiques business? I have my doubts.
The first characteristic feature of the antique objects is that they are unique to certain degree. Hardly two items are exactly the same. Some differences are quite subtle such as the splat of a chair or the shade of a lamp. The antique shopping is exciting in that one is personally hand picking stuff that interests his eyes, hands and mind. The scrutinization with the aid of touch and look both strengthens one’s perception and cognition and weaken one’s objectivity at the same time. Online pictures and description lacks such a warmth and humanity of real antique shopping and flatten the objects into remote and mysterious merchandise.
This is especially true for stores which feature high end antique objects. Will one buy a sofa attributed to Anthony Quevelle without even examining it in person? The trust mechanism that has been built solid in online giants such as eBay or Amazon Market does not exist in workshop-style antique stores. Plus the inborn fragile or bulky character of antiques objects makes shipping troublesome or even cost prohibitive.
Secondly, antiques business is having a hard time regardless to the boom of Internet shopping. High-end antiques can be immune to the market trend (including stock market), but medium ranged objects are closely related to the house market. The money strain hit the regular buyers hard that the pleasure of finding something unexpected and surprising on weekend antique shopping comes with a sting on the hand holding the wallet. (New Yorkers in particular face both the budget constraint and the space limitation. ) With the house market slows down, stalls and renegades, and the food, gas, rents keep rising, the painful struggling period of antique business will last for quite a while.
Lastly, the complains and groans about the change of tastes, in my point of view, may only be partially true. The trends have always worked in a swing fashion. The young generation has witnessed the most fast growth of information in history. They are the masters of finding and digesting what is available from the past. The fact that they are now buying funky furniture does not necessarily mean that they won’t fall in love with victorian antiques in future. Money, time and space, all these factors refrain them from venturing into something that can only be fully appreciated when you begin to get involved with a fairly thick check book. But there is a reason, I believe, for those antiques objects being sought after and kept pristine for such a long time. They encompass the characters of uniqueness and universality, the values of humanity, history, religion, symbolism and aestheticism. They may be now hidden in the dusty nooks of some shops, nevertheless, they shine in front of the keen eyes, which fortunately always exist.