By Dan Nielsen
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
Wipe the dust off antique merchandise and reveal a shining business opportunity — that’s the business plan of a tight-knit group of retailers in northwest Lower Michigan.
Traverse City native Deb Thomack opened a small booth inside The Red Dresser, 1253 S. Airport, this month. Sally Lake, who has operated antique booths for more than 20 years, currently has two large long-established spaces inside the massive Wilson Antiques building on Union Street.
“You want to be broad enough (in range of merchandise) that 75 percent of customers might possibly be interested in what you have,” Lake said.
Individual personality can help a booth stand out from competitors, Lake said, but stock diversity remains essential.
At one point years ago, Lake stocked only children’s books. She learned the hard way that specialization isn’t always a good thing, and that offering a variety of merchandise is what keeps the cash register ringing. Now her booths are filled with furniture, lamps, glassware, jewelry and books. She said those are the product lines that seem to hold universal appeal and result in repeated sales.
Seasoned merchandise holds continuing fascination for many Americans. A constant flow of buyers fertilizes the growth of antique malls from coast to coast. Such operations allow entrepreneurs to display and sell their wares with a relatively small investment.
Sales at Thomack’s new booth have been strong her first two weeks of business.
“I can’t keep things in my booth,” because brisk sales constantly empty her shelves, Thomack said.
Typically, an “antique mall” owner operates the main sales desk and rents portions of the interior space to individual sellers.
The operator takes care of the roof, the heat, some staff and security. Individual sellers get the opportunity to open a retail space and concentrate on merchandise rather than brick-and-mortar worries.
The Red Dresser is one such local operation. Others include Cherryland Antique Mall & Consignment Center on Garfield, Bay West Antiques on Grandview Parkway, Lilacs in Elk Rapids and Wilson Antiques’ two locations in Traverse City and Acme.
Thomack fills her booth at The Red Dresser with a mix of vintage and antique items, many with local flavor: linens, bedding, candles and soaps. She named her booth “Swede and Gladdies” after her grandparents. She buys her merchandise mostly at thrift stores. Some booth operators prowl garage sales. Lake, who worked for two decades as a teacher in the region, said her merchandise comes from a mixture of estate sales, auctions and the Internet.
“I go crazy at an auction,” Lake said.