A Q&A With Philadelphia Antiques Show Chairwoman Gretchen Riley

Director of Sales and Marketing for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Russell R. Kice; Mayor Michael A. Nutter; and 2012 Show Chairwoman Gretchen Riley with the new logo
Director of Sales and Marketing for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Russell R. Kice; Mayor Michael A. Nutter; and 2012 Show Chairwoman Gretchen Riley with the new logo.

Big changes are underway at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, among them a move to Center City and the Philadelphia Convention Center and a decision to allow some newer objects into the show. This afternoon I spent some time on the phone with the Show’s Chairperson, Gretchen Riley, who tells us more of what to expect this April.

Q. How long have you been involved with the Philadelphia Antiques Show?

A. I have been a volunteer since 1994. The show is run by 200 volunteers. There are paid managers, but the volunteers do most of the work. I got involved in antiques show because of University of Pennsylvania health system. I wanted to give back to them for what they have given to the community and me in particular. My parents always had antiques and my husband and I inherited some. And we’ve bought some antiques. I love modern furniture too, but there’s something about antiques– the patina, the finishes, the styles. I love antiques, but I am not a major collector like some of the people involved in our show.

Q. It’s a long-running show, 1962, I believe. How hard is it to make the necessary changes?

A. It was founded by a group of women, one in particular, Mrs. Ali Brown, had the vision. It was called the University of Pennsylvania Hospital Antiques Show. From there it evolved into the Philadelphia Antiques Show. This year we had to move our venue. The building we were in at the Navy Yard was sold to urban outfitters, so we had to find a new location. I formed a committee to go oit and look at all possible venues in the Philadelphia area. The best choice was the Pennsylvania Convention Center. However tlways people who don’t like change. There were dealers who didn’t want to move, but then there were dealers who were very excited about it. The Convention Center is so centrally located. It has a plethora of parking garages, a central location, its got public transportation and all the Center City crowd can come. It’s also a bigger location, which will make it much easier to throw a classy show, but that being said, its also a more expensive location and we have to deal with a different set of union issues.

The space is wonderful. We’ll have more dealers than ever- 55 dealers, three designer showrooms with interior designers showing how you can mix and match antiques with contemporary furniture. New collectors don’t want to have a period home or everything that looks like it came from 1790.

Q. I read the show will now allow items as new as 1970. How did this come about, why is it necessary and how will quality be maintained?

As long as the artist or creator is deceased. For example, Wharton Esherick who made some wonderful furniture and sculpture. He’s deceased (1970). They have to be superb examples of what they are. It’s obviously not massed produced if it was created by someone. These are fine pieces of furniture and art.

It seemed like it was the right decision to make because there were some things dealers would like to have brought to the show. They weren’t able to because our parameters were more limiting. We’re trying to broaden the scope of the show and bring in outsider art. Brown furniture is just not that popular and the brown furniture dealers aren’t doing so well. We had to boost up the ones we have and bring in a nice assortment of dealers who attract as broad of an audience as they possibly can.

Q. I am also involved in producing a site called PhiladelphiaAntiquesWeek.com, which seeks to create an information blanket for the events of the week, with the intent of reaching new audiences. Do you support the of welcoming visitors to Philly to stay longer and take in multiple events?

We have so much going on, we have our hands full with what we have. We have eight free lectures being offered, we have three special events at the show. That’s a lot for us to promote. And then we have our designer show rooms to promote, and a fabulous loan exhibit. We have our hands full. But I mean, yes, we are collaborative and we would love to beef up the Antiques Week in Philadelphia so it becomes a real destination.

Q. Are there any other changes in store, or new features for visitors to look forward to?

The other thing we are doing is what has always been a catalog in the past is turning into a magazine and it will have feature stories. It will be a collectible item rather than an ad magazine. The committee is creating the magazine.

Q. What advice can you give someone who may be interested in coming out and seeing the show, but might be apprehensive because they don’t know anything about antiques?

I think coming to the Philadelphia Antiques Show is like going to a museum, except its better. The dealers are there to talk to you about what they have, you get to touch and see how things were made. When you go to a museum, you can’t pull the drawer out to see how it was dovetailed. If someone wants to educate themselves about furniture and art, there couldn’t be a better way of doing it than coming to the Philadelphia Antiques Show. The dealers are very interested in educating anybody who asks a question. There are museum-quality pieces in the show, then there are things for the first time collector as well.

Q. Have you given dealers any advice on how to treat potential customers like this who might feel intimidated? In my experience, some perform very well, others, not so well.

We have. There are obviously some dealers who are better than others. Just the way some people can communicate better than others.

Q. Are you reaching out to social media channels?

Very much so. We have hired a marketing firm this year, realizing with our move we had to reposition ourselves. They have been fabulous. We have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and our new web site is about ready to be launched.

Look for more information on the Philadelphia Antiques Show at PhiladelphiaAntiquesWeek.com

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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