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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Confessions Of An Antiques Store Worker: Florence, Colorado

It's time to get out the figurative checkers and pickle barrel and feel the pulse of the town by working in ye olde antiques store in Florence, Colorado.

For those who don't know, Florence is the official antiques capital of Colorado and a burg of about 4,000 souls. We are off the beaten track, close to Highway 50, but not on it. We are accessible by Highways 67 and 115 and are over 20 miles from I-25. But people from all over the country and world, sometimes, manage to find the town. They don't come in droves usually, but at fast-enough clip to keep life and business interesting.

We moved here just a few years ago. We noticed real estate prices were way cheaper than Denver or Colorado Springs, where we owned homes. But that was to be expected since we are semi-isolated and the job market in Fremont County is decent, but nothing like the major metro areas along the Front Range.

We've had friends move here from a bigger Colorado city semi-recently and in helping them search online we noticed the real estate prices moving up.  We could not figure out why though. There have been no new major employers in the county. The economy here is decent with the rebuilding of the Royal Gorge Park (about 20 miles from Florence) but the economy is not exactly robust in Florence. Decent, but not robust.

We have friends who know a top real estate agent who sells in El Paso and Fremont counties and the agent reported the inventory is low in Fremont County and prices are rising.

Why? There was even a minor newspaper story about it, quoting local real estate agents noticing this and an influx of people, but the agents couldn't nail down exactly why  in order to establish a definitive pattern.

Well, all you have to do is hang out in ye olde antiques store to find out a reasonable theory.

A person came in the shop and knows a real estate agent who has been flooded with people moving in from a certain section of Colorado. I won't mention which section, since it's not my intent to give any area a bad rap.

I asked why people were flooding into Florence and buying houses when the job market here is what one would expect in a small town with few chain stores and very little industry except the prisons and small agricultural and related businesses.

The person replied that the area they are escaping from has went to pot--literally no pun intended. The illegal part of it. Illegal grows. And generally not from local people. The person said Cubans are often the ones bringing the illegal marijuana grows in.

I generally don't believe everything I hear. But this is the third time I have heard that. I heard it from an electrician. I had never thought of it before, but electricians and plumbers, etc. are generally all over, doing jobs and seeing what it happening in the real world.

And this area, folks are apparently escaping to Florence from, also has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country.

And I know drugs (not marijuana only) are a problem in that Colorado town. I was in the town in question, actually buying antiques and saw it for myself. A friend had remembered from years back that she knew a neighborhood that had several antiques and junk stores all in a row. I was not familiar with the town much or the area. But we could only find one store that she vaguely remembered from years back.

I asked the store worker where all the other stores where, my friend remembered. She said that was years ago and the drugs were so bad that all the shop owners became scared and moved or went out of business.

I asked the obvious question: Where are the police?

"What police? There aren't enough police in this town," she replied.

As we left the store with our purchases, we were approached by a person who looked like a drug addict who insisted on helping us load our vehicle despite our saying, no thanks. He insisted and I gave him the few dollars I knew he wanted and so he would leave us alone, which he did.

Not a horrible experience, since the guy was respectful. But not a fun shopping experience that would draw most people to a town or neighborhood. And my and my friend are small town at heart, but perhaps are a bit more streetwise than some people since we've lived in some challenging areas all across the country.

I was told by the person who came into the shop I work in Florence, that people are coming in droves from this certain town, overtaken in part by drugs and also another town in Colorado that isn't quite as drug conflicted, but getting there.

At least now we know why real estate prices are rising in Florence and why we do run into so many transplants. And I understand. We all want small town America. We all want those conveniences and culture of the bigger cities, but we also want that small town security where we know our neighbors and can live relatively crime-free because the town is small enough so we can see what is going on.

Not that long ago, as we were moving here, and I was noticing the ridiculously low prices on nice homes in Fremont County, I asked our real estate agent why it was so. I was almost like a kid in a candy shop, finally able to afford a house I could never dream of in most other Colorado towns.

He told me that most people (usually employed by the prisons) chose to commute to Florence and Fremont County from larger towns, so there were plenty of houses available here. I asked why.

"They want the "lifestyle" in those larger towns and they don't want the lifestyle here," he said.

And now a few short years later, many people don't want the lifestyle in those same cities and are driving up the prices to get the lifestyle here.

Confessions Of An Antiques Store Worker: We All Need A Hug

Working in an antiques store is kind of like sitting in an old general store with a pickle barrel and  checkers. That's a good thing. It's  like feeling the pulse of a town.

I find out people's stories. And that's what I love. Antiques are about stories. But to me it's just a vehicle to find out about what makes people tick. Tick. Tock. Like a vintage clock, chiming a comforting tone.

Usually the stories are upbeat. Sometimes controversial. And sometimes INCREDIBLY sad and touching.

Let me tell you about America. I can tell you about it, without leaving ye olde antiques store.

I rarely mention names on this blog (unless I get permission) and all the observations are true, but for obvious reasons I don't include all details so as not to intrude on people's deepest feelings.

Let me tell you about America. At least in my small town of Florence, Colorado.

I rang up a purchase for a nice gentleman. Another antiques dealer had stopped in to check out their booth. The gentleman asked if we had heard about a tragic story in the news that involved the death of a young person. We said yes. He said that was his child.

Tears immediately came to me, unasked. I wiped them away before anyone noticed. Then I noticed the other dealer with tears.

I am a shy person by nature, but leaned across the counter and gave the gentleman a hug. He hugged me back.

I told him I had read the obituary and also watched the news and told him something I remembered about his child, even though I never met his child. His eyes watered.

The other dealer told him that he had no idea how many people heard or read about his child and were praying for him daily, even though the death has faded from the news. The dealer went on to encourage him in every area of his dark journey.

In the midst of his grief and appreciation that two strangers "remembered" his child, he mentioned he was in the antiques store buying an item for his brother as a gift.

Let me tell you about small-town America. It's not different than anywhere else in America. There are good people everywhere. It's just easier to notice them in a small town. It's just easier to find a person with incredible courage that is out doing things for others even after losing a child. It's just easier to "remember" when someone had a tragedy. And it's easier in the slower pace to take time to share that human touch.

The gentleman started to leave. I wanted to hug him again so much--but thought I should not, since the first hug I gave him was spontaneous.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said, "May I have another hug? My child was all about hugging."

He did not have to ask twice.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Confession Of An Antiques Store Worker: Going Off The Grid

I'm curious. I can't help asking people what they are going to do with the things they buy at ye olde antiques mall where I occasionally work.

See this pile of tools. It's just a fraction of what they were purchasing.

Tool collectors? Nope. I've noticed a trend in antiques and collectibles.

Recently another person that used to be affiliated with an antiques shop told me that the younger generation, of which she was part of, was more into designing with antiques. They weren't really collectors.

That is partially true. And I've read plenty of articles (because I am nosy and curious) that spell doom and gloom for the antiques and collectibles markets due to the Baby Boomers getting older and being the last generation that will care about vintage things. It is true that certain antiques have taken a nosedive. I've witnessed it up close and personal.

But I can read all the articles that tell me to SELL now and don't buy any more antiques to sell or for speculation since the market is basically doomed for low to mid-priced items. According to some experts, unless I can purchase fine portraits and porcelain, etc. from the 18th century--I am doomed.

OK, I can't afford to buy really high-end stuff.

But facts don't lie. The younger generation, at least where I work, seem to be buying more antiques and collectibles than those Baby Boomers. Not that Baby Boomers don't get a little excited over some antiques.

But they aren't buying them for the reasons I would think.

The folks who were buying those tools did not look over age 25. They were a married couple.

So what were they going to do with all those tools? Go off the grid.

Turns out they just sold their house in Colorado and were planning on moving to another state where land is really cheap and building codes were almost non-existent. I'd mention the state, but I wouldn't want this information getting out and driving land prices up before these sweet kids could get their land.

They plan on building their own log cabin. Growing their own food and eventually be totally self-sustaining. And they decided to do the smart thing and come to Florence, the antiques capital of Colorado to make purchases. Most of the tools in their pile were in the $2 each range.

I asked them why they wanted to do it. I explained I came from the 1970s generation where most everyone read Mother Earth News and dreamed of doing this. But I had NO idea this new generation was into that.

They laughed and replied they have talked about how they were born in the wrong generation.

I didn't tell them that while I respect young people, I wrongly made the assumption that most of them were glued to their Smart phones and computers and couldn't live a day without Starbucks.

The wife explained why, "It's about being an American and doing it because you can. Proving that you can do it."


I'm pretty sure she wasn't implying that other cultures don't do this in this modern era. I think she was saying that America is a wonderful place to live and prove yourself however you see fit, even if it's hard.

The husband echoed her sentiment and mentioned liberty and freedom to be who you want.

I actually got a chill up my neck and commented they must be Libertarians!

It turns out they were "just a little Libertarian."

Let's forget the labels. American. Libertarian. Off the grid. Pioneers.

They were simply telling me they were happy to live in America and be young and strong and free to choose a lifestyle that even older people might find too difficult.

And while these are the first antiques store customers who told me they were going off the grid with their purchases, surprisingly they weren't the first very young people to tell me they were buying antique tools and implements to get back to basics.

In other words--these antiques weren't being collected or going to gather dust in a display.

I had one young man who bought knives and hatchets say, once in awhile he simply goes into the woods for a few days and practices the art of survival and old school things just to know that he can.

These aren't people who are preppers or survivalists. Not that there is anything wrong with those pursuits. They are simply young people who don't want to sit in front of electronic devices all day. They want to be strong and prove themselves just because they can.

And I am meeting more and more of these young folks whose eyes literally sparkle when they are browsing at draw knives and planes and tools and dreaming of building their own log cabin or making furniture or making their way in the world on their own old school terms.

What a privilege to meet these "kids" and know that to them antiques aren't some old relic of days gone by--but useful tools in a meaningful and relevant life in the here and now.

Selling Your Antiques & Collectibles In Florence, The Antiques Capital of Colorado

I occasionally work in an antiques mall in Florence, the antiques capital of Colorado and most every day someone comes in off the streets to sell antiques or collectibles.

This post is a long overdue response to a blog buddy who emailed me awhile back asking about the best way to go about selling antiques or collectibles in Florence.

While I am not an expert on the subject, I'm happy to pass on a few tips on how it generally works.

One of the most asked questions is if the shop I work in (or others in town) take items on consignment. The answer is generally no. There are several antiques malls in Florence. And Florence is no different from most other towns when it comes to antiques malls. Most malls have individual dealers that rent a space--generally by the square foot and then pay the antiques mall a  commission (usually 10 percent) on each sale. Individual dealers, such as myself, generally have small spaces and don't have room for large items --unless the item is very unique and a good seller. Even a good seller can sit in an antiques booth for months and take up a fairly large amount of rent, cutting into the bottom line.

There are a few shops in Florence  owned by single owners that have the floor space to take items on consignment. I won't mention those shops by name, since most shop owners welcome folks off the street, but don't want to be deluged with people coming in wanting to sell items, unless they get an advance phone call and possibly a potential seller sending them a picture. Sometimes the owners (or dealers working in the antiques malls) will purchase select items on the spot. Generally the mall owners, out of respect, get the first chance to purchase items from people dropping in or calling--and if they don't want to purchase, usually whoever is working in the shop has the option to purchase.

Most owners of shops  tend to more buy out estates or buy in bulk at auctions, etc. But most do welcome people off the streets and love to share their knowledge even if they aren't able to buy the item.

One of the most common things that happens is people attempting to sell items look it up on Ebay. That's fair. People want to have a general idea of what something might be worth. But as someone who sold on Ebay for over 15 years--Ebay's pricing isn't always accurate. For example, sometimes I'd list an item and it would not sell, even though I listed it lower than the last crop of identical items that sold. Then I'd wait a few weeks and relist it and it would sell for double. Or, sometimes it would sell for less than half of what the "going" price was.

I've spoken to over a dozen people attempting to sell items who tell me it sells for $50 on Ebay. I say,"OK, what would YOU like for your item?" The answer is almost ALWAYS,"Why, $50 of course!"

That happened recently when a gentleman attempting to sell a vintage pair of eyeglasses for $50, that he insisted went for $50 on Ebay. I know that eyeglasses generally sell in Florence for about $19 to $24. If the glass are Civil War era or come in a metal case--perhaps a bit more. His glasses were very common.

Usually people ask DOUBLE the price that most dealers can expect to get. And most people don't realize dealers have to pay rent, commission and price things and keep records.

One gentleman insisted mounted deer antlers were going for $140 in a neighboring Colorado county. They go for a fraction of that in Florence. Of course, I always suggest people go to the place, whether it is Ebay or a neighboring county to get those prices. But inevitably--they always mention that might be impractical when I gently press the issue.

This sound rather negative, but it's the norm. That's not to say that I have not told people EXACTLY what the real-life, realistic retail prices are for things--and some of them offer to sell their items for a reasonable amount that I could make a small profit.

Recently some folks came in were thrilled with what they were attempting to sell. A very OLD, but common chair. Single chairs (unless they are carved or very unique) simply do not sell well except as plant stands. And for usually under $20. These folks kept saying how OLD their items were. Stanley levels without the bubble are fairly useless, except as wall hangers. OLD does not equal valuable always.

A lady came in fresh from an auction in a neighboring county. She said she got a very good deal on Ball glass jars. She brought me another jar from a dealer's booth in the mall that was $6. She said her jars were better than the $6 one we had and wanted $5 each for her jars. She was a lovely lady--but  a $1 profit isn't a profit to us, because if we mark a jar $6, we have to pay the mall 60 cents commission and some rent. We'd actually go in the hole. AND Ball jars (unless they are a certain color or very old) simply do not sell well. I brought another dealer in to talk to the lady and she offered her $2 each jar. The lady acted a bit insulted. But the other dealer told me later that she was being polite, because 50 cents to $1 is more realistic since these jars are so common they sit on shelves for years sometimes, eating up space and rent.

There are always exceptions. So don't take what I observe as gospel. But here's what does not sell at all--or sells VERY slowly. China, unless it's really unique. Depression glass (unless it is rare). Doilies. Crocheted items, unless bedspreads that are exquisite. Tools that are bent or broken or missing pieces. Clear Ball or Mason jars, unless they are very old and in great shape. Most any type of clear glass. Single common chairs. Stuff made in China or India that looks old, but isn't.

These items do sell, but for low prices. Old or looks old does not equate valuable or fast sellers.

Here's what is fairly hot--at least in Florence. GOOD old tools. Draw knives. Levels with the bubbles. Files. Saws. Knives. But they must be in decent condition.

Generally any item that was a "man" item sells fairly well. the theory is that men were often hard on their tools and implements and a lot didn't survive in great shape, so they are at a premium. And many people are buying these items NOT to sit in a case or "collect" but actually use them.

"Women" collectibles and antiques do sell. But since items were generally in the house, and not in a barn or workshop, more survived, so they are more common. Of course, quilts in good condition sell well. In fact, almost the minute quilts arrive, they are sold and there are times when there are no quilts to be found. But those doilies and more common linens sell as low as $1 each. Vintage tablecloths and aprons in good condition are not fast sellers, but do sell. Pictures and prints (unless rare) are usually slow movers. Some old glass lamps and kerosene ones sell well--but generally lamps are not the fastest sellers.

Let's move on to furniture. Oak furniture and Victorian furniture has taken a fairly large nosedive in the past few years, pricewise. But good solid furniture sells well. Most people value solid wood furniture, especially when it is priced just a little higher that particle board or modern furniture that won't stand the test of time. Primitive cabinets, pie safes, butcher block-type islands, etc. are fast sellers.

Spool cabinets sell fast. Weathervanes. Most anything advertising. Matched sets of vintage license plates in good condition (Common license plates from the 1970s and newer usually sell for $5 each). Pyrex. Old glass coffee jars. Most anything that came out of an old general or hardware store.

Unusual items sell, even if they aren't that old. Chaps. Bull riding gear. Saddles, etc. Water drinking fountains. Older wheelbarrows. Just those rather useful items that aren't that easy to find in a retail store. Fishing equipment. Ammo boxes. Crates. Wire baskets--very hot.

And for a reason that defies my understanding--ladders sell like hotcakes. Newish ladders. Old ladders. Wooden stepladders fly out the door. Vintage kitchen step stools. Winners. Kitchen carts. Winners.

Industrial carts or items used as kitchen islands are big sellers. Any type of furniture that can be used in a cabin or vacation home that is rustic, usually sells quickly.

Pumps? YES! Small water pumps. Large ones. Doesn't matter. They are fairly hard to find. People tell me they are using them in vacation homes, cabins and even tiny homes they are building.

People come in looking for "survival" type items. Hatchets, axes, pumps, tools, etc. Some people are using these items to go totally off the grid or for weekend camping or weekend survival type expeditions.

Any type of antique or collectible that can be used and used a lot seems to be taking precedence over items that just sit on a shelf. But many people are looking to complete a collection or "collect" an item just because it looks good to them.

Hardware sells. Knobs. Keys. Handles. Little odd bodkins that people can use to repair or compliment their existing antiques--or use to make artwork or garden art.

Stained glass. Garden items. Iron gates--they all sell, but it takes awhile.

Many people tell me they are returning to their roots and want to brew moonshine, practice survival skills or build some artwork out of a jumble of antiques. They buy a headboard and grow some veggies or vines on it. They remove glass from old windows and use them as picture frames or as a frame to hang kitchen utensils. Don't undervalue old windows, doors and screen doors. And barn doors are fairly good sellers.

And customers will come in an inform us of trends we are not totally familiar with. Glamping is in. That's glamorous camping and some customers want vintage things for their campers or auto-related items to do their glamping in style.

Steampunk? Florence has more steampunk items per square foot than most towns. It's a fairly fast seller. We have shops with steampunk widgets to make your own art and lots of corsets and other steampunk fashions.

When people used to question me about what sold on Ebay, I'd always say,"What you think is worth a lot is usually not. And what you think is worthless and are embarrassed to put on Ebay often sells for a lot." That was true in the late 90s and most of the early 2000s. I don't sell much on Ebay anymore because certain markets tanked as competition became more fierce. Examples of what I was embarrassed to put on Ebay or thought was virtually worthless. A vintage Playtex rubber girdle that sold for $200. A cracked cup with no saucer that was ugly and I started the bid at $3.99. I sold for over $300 because it was a Civil War-era cup that was used on a railroad that was only in business for a few years, unbeknownst to me. Vintage ladies panties! Yes, that was embarrassing. They often sold for $60 an up, per pair.

I don't claim to be an antiques and collectibles expert. But one story I have and that I am sticking to is: What you think is worth a lot--usually not. What you don't--might be. Always ask someone or look it up online. And IF you can't find it online--chances are it's fairly rare and someone in Florence might be able to either buy it or help you find the person who specializes in it, even if they are out of the area.

And sometimes selling a speciality item might be best done on Ebay. Most shoppers to brick and mortar antiques stores would giggle over vintage panties and rubber girdles from the 1950s. And it might take a long time for the customer to show up in Florence to know that cracked Civil War cup was almost beyond rare.

And even though I've been a part-time antiques and collectibles dealer for many years--many times I don't know what's valuable. More often than not, I know what's NOT valuable. But most people in Florence, who either own shops or work in them--can help you get the information you need. And don't ever be shy about asking and then asking even more people in town how to find out what you have.

Even sellers will not know at times what they have. Semi-recently we bought this crappy-looking vase covered with wallpaper scraps for $3.99 from a dealer in Colorado Springs. It turns out its a Van Briggle--but it's so odd that we can't locate the era from the mark. And the vase is so glaze-flawed it looks like it might be a test piece from the 1920s. Van Briggle and other potteries can be very ugly (in my opinion) and one might pass them by. One time we bought an UGLY piece at a yard sale for $1. We knew it was Van Briggle, but thought it was worthless because we couldn't tell what it was and it was UGLY. Turns out it was so rare that not many people knew what it was. It was a candleholder that was made to be converted to electricity right as electricity was becoming popular. And I  only found out because a few experts on Ebay were kind enough to email me and tell me what I had. Sometimes if a local dealer (including me) doesn't have a clue--it's worth it to put it on Ebay just for the worldwide exposure, since it's never failed that niche experts will email and share their vast knowledge. See, when you think it's SO UGLY and you can't even tell what it is--it might be a winner.

Of course, no one can give a definitive list of what sells and what doesn't. The minute one thinks one has it figured out--someone will come in an scoop up tons of doilies and other things that usually don't sell at a fast clip.

Jewelry, especially vintage Native American pieces always hold their own.

I've covered a few items that sell quickly and a few that don't move too quickly. It's not to be discouraging--it's just to give people an idea why dealers might not jump on common clear glass jars, a box of doilies or broken tools and single common chairs.

I don't know every antiques dealer in Florence. There are probably over a hundred from the area and even out of state that rent booth space. But I do know quite a few of them that own their own shops--and they are all honest people. I know many of the dealers that do rent space and they also are honest.

If an item will retail for $100, they will usually tell you. They won't attempt to give you $5 for a $100 item. I can't speak for every dealer--so I will speak for myself. If you have a good idea an item will sell for $100, I will usually offer about $50 for the item. That sounds like I will double my money. Let's say the item is a small vintage book shelf and measures about two by three feet. That's five square feet. Booth rents vary in Florence and in Pueblo and Colorado Springs. It depends on the location in the shops. But generally rent is $1.50 per square foot.

 It will cost me $7.50 rent per month for my book shelf. Say it takes three months to sell. Sometimes even good items take a year or more to sell. But let's say three months. I've spent $22.50 on rent. Assuming the customer doesn't ask for a price reduction, I get my $100 and 10 percent goes to the antiques mall. So I get $90. Subtract the $50 I paid. I get $40. Most malls charge the dealer three percent if a credit card is used. Customers use credit cards about 60 percent of the time in my experience. Subtract $3 for the credit card fees. So now I get $37. Now subtract the $22.50 I spent on rent and my profit is $14.50. And that is assuming I did not have to clean the item, spend money on a furniture oil or make a minor repair. So, in my example, I made about 14 percent profit. Better than the stock market at times--but not the riches most people might expect.

Now it's a little easier to understand why some dealers would hope to go to an estate or auction and get that book shelf for $20.

That is one reason antiques dealers (especially the dealers who do it part-time and rent booths) are very careful about what they buy since space is at a premium and profit margins are sometimes low.

Most booth rental dealers find it more profitable to buy bulk in auctions and estates. And if you go to an antiques mall, you can usually see placards inviting you to call a dealer who will come to your home or property to buy in bulk.

Owners who own the shops, of course have overhead, but in my opinion have more leeway and space to buy items off the street than the "part-time" dealers.

There are a few shops (not the antiques malls) in Florence that do accept consignments, but not usually smaller items. They usually accept select pieces of furniture or higher-priced items for the obvious reasons that it isn't worth their efforts on less expensive items.

This is NOT to discourage people from dropping into the stores without notice to try and sell items. I've sent people to other stores to sell their items (when I was unable or didn't have room) and people have come back to thank me for sending them to an honest dealer who gave them a good price and bought the item on the spot. But I generally know what stores semi-specialize in what items.

Get to know what stores specialize in certain items. There are single-owner stores that specialize in the more high-end items and those in the mid-range. Some stores specialize in primitives and others in the more "man" collectibles such as tools.

And yes, some dealers actually buy items off the street that go directly to their own homes for their own enjoyment. I usually spend a little more on those items since I don't have to worry about overhead. Go into the shops (or look in the windows) and you can generally tell what shops' themes are.

Florence also has two excellent pawn shops that carry a large variety of antiques. Those are also an option for folks wanting to sell outright and get some quick cash and a fair deal. I usually recommend that option to folks that have just one or two mid-price items to sell. And here's a little trade secret: Pawns shops, at least in Florence, have some very good prices on some very unique items. I've spoken to customers, tourist customers and other dealers that have frequented Florence pawn shops and found fantastic deals.

If you are attempting to clear out a large amount of smaller-sized items with no particular theme--I also recommend people rent their own booth spaces. Several antiques malls and shops offer "starter" spaces for very nominal fees. Those spaces might just be a baker's rack, cupboard or shelf--and can be as low as $20 per month rent.

It all boils down to the decisions on what is best for what you are selling. One or two good quality items: Find a single-owner shop that specializes in those items for the best price. One or two mid-range items: The pawn shops are usually the best bet. A few items with no theme: Also try the shops. And sometimes a dealer who rents space in a mall will be working in the mall and want to purchase or can direct you to a dealer's placard with contact information. Have a lot of items? The best option might be renting space IF you are willing to be in it for awhile and be willing to pay the overheard and wait for sales. But the overall profit could be higher if you have a knack for cleaning, pricing, arranging and being patient.