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It is hard to imagine that we are almost in mid- January and soon we will be entering a new season of Art and Antique Shows as well as auctions and private sales. The climate for business has actually changed over the course of the last year and so as dealers we must ask the question” how has it changed for me?” Dealers need to realize that these changes are not universal and depend on the location of your business and what you are selling. Every morning my husband and I watch the News and a business network to hear the latest chatter about the economy. We also read The Wall Street Journal paying close attention to all the luxury markets. Notice, the key word is “chatter” because there is actual little news reporting these days but opinions from commentators. How we long for Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of the NBC News.

Real economic data is important and then we must decide what the data means to our local economy. For example, since November, strong sales in the Luxury real estate market have been reported. As dealers we may be encouraged because these new home owners could be our clients. Our friends outside the trade now phone us with encouragement that we will finally have a great year! Our good wishers have made a sweeping conclusion that because the rich are now buying million dollar homes they are demanding high end antique furnishings. Not so fast! There are underlying factors and questions which should be addressed about these luxury real estate sales. The key question is WHO is buying these homes and WHERE are these homes located? We all must remember a key word is demographics. WHAT are the demographics of your area?

For example, Miami was hit hard the first few years of this lingering economic crisis and many wealthy from other countries swarmed in to grab real estate during a depressed market. Here in Charleston, South Carolina the luxury home, even the famous “South of Broad” neighborhood, has lost over 30 percent of value. The late fall sales were encouraging but these sales were mostly to younger people as second homes. New York City may not have been hit as hard as the rest of the country and is recovering nicely. Colleagues there may be experiencing better sales but not enough to sustain their cost structures. Areas around San Francisco have survived and the markets are back. I can only speak for the markets in the Southern United States and tell you that the majority of the new owners of these homes do not want brown furniture or brown furniture with gilt bronzes. They would prefer the “look” through Restoration Hardware or the new sleek furniture lines they see in the trade magazines.

They do not have a fancy for tapestries, ornate silver and Fine Oriental Rugs because many actually changed their taste years ago in the fall of 2001. Some of us were too blinded to see it. From 2001 to now the antique dealer has slowly been pushed toward the proverbial “fiscal cliff”. Today we are being buried by nostalgia and many have become stuck or given up the profession. Twelve years ago a group of late 40 and 50 year old clients were stopped dead in their tracks with their spending and faced the reality of the world. Some of these very same people (mostly the conservatives scattered across the country) never got over the events of that year and they became more cautious with their spending.

That coupled with the economic events of 2008 along with the housing crisis became the final blow. Europe and other countries across the globe have their own problems and economic disasters. There are but a few countries that have been unscathed. We can continue to try to educate the young, we can encourage the appreciation of our own passion and we can continue to put our best out there for the world to see in the hopes that an even smaller few will appreciate us, buy and collect. For myself, I will always be a specialist in 18th Century French Furniture and I have the Interior Design credentials to carry on with my secondary profession which is also evolving. In order to survive, we have had much time on our hands to reflect what the next chapters will include. For most of us that should be a diversification of talents.

This is a new year and there are some signs of slow progress. Each and every one of us in the antique trade needs to look into our souls and find another spark which can be shared. We are a knowledgeable and talented group and we can make a contribution while making money.

God Bless you and may you have a Happy New Year!

About the Author

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy is a woman with a mission – that is, to deliver to her clients the ultimate in period furniture and decorative arts. Her firm is considered one of the nation’s premier sou...