Back at work again!
by Peggy Whiteneck
Years ago – actually, more years than I can count! – I worked at the Antiques Collaborative, off Exit 1 of I-89 on Route 4 in Quechee, VT, as the front desk manager. That high-end business www.antiquescollaborative.com/catalog is still owned by the couple I worked for then, Bill and Isabel Bradley. Having myself reached the post-retirement age of 71, it was my pleasure to make myself available in late August this year to run the multi-dealer shop, widely and affectionately known as “the Collab,” while Bill and Isabel take a much-deserved vacation.
What makes this shop unique among all those I have visited in my career as a collector is the age and quality of the merchandise. Much of the inventory in the three-story mall, artfully renovated from an old farmhouse, is genuinely antique (as in, past the 100-year mark) from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Bill himself specializes in merchandise made of pure silver, but other dealers feature furniture, glass, old books, and almost anything else of fine quality that may come to mind. While the inventory is deeper and there seems much more of it than I remember from my earlier days at the Collab, it still manages to be artfully displayed, avoiding the “tossed in” effect of so many multi-dealer displays in other shops.
For years, the Antiques Collaborative has done a healthy business in fine paintings by name New England artists, the most famous of which sell quickly. Bill and Isabel also feature high-end Native American pottery and artifacts as well as a collection of fine Oriental rugs, historically a big seller for the business.
Bill reports that one of the changes in inventory is the increased percentage of consignment merchandise at the shop; there aren’t as many dealers buying and selling directly. Since he and Isabel vet all the merchandise, the quality remains high whether consigned or brought in by dealers for their own displays. I did notice that on small items such as jewelry, many prices were more affordable than I remember from when I first worked there. Famous names and high-end stuff (e.g., Georg Jensen silver jewelry) still command the premium, but there’s plenty of quality stuff there also for those focused on affordability.
The Antiques Collaborative,
The three-story entryway of the Antiques Collaborative,
artfully renovated from an old farm house and barn to show off the quality inventory of this business.
(Image courtesy of the author)
Like most Vermont businesses, the Collab was shut down from mid-March through latter May in 2020 as COVID struck. Bill still went to the shop nearly every day, making Facebook posts on the shop’s inventory and conducting web sales. The shop was open to one occasional customer at a time and did some curbside business as well, but Bill reports the volume was nowhere close to keeping the business afloat. Government COVID subsidies helped keep it going.
Remarkably, the business didn’t lose dealers during the shutdown despite the quietest two months of the year. Now, two years later, a larger percentage of the business income is from consignments rather than dealer rental spaces.
Thanks to the state’s handling of the pandemic, Vermont had the lowest COVID rate in the country, and Bill reports that, when the doors reopened, customers “came flocking in.” The Bradleys have noted a change in the customer base since I first worked there.
Even as older customers have been “downsizing,” younger customers have become the mainstay of the business as they are buying and redecorating new homes. These younger collectors “aren’t as concerned or knowledgeable about history,” Bill reports. “They’re more interested in practical, rugged, functional pieces such as harvest tables and repurposed dry sinks. They’re looking for lighter-color woods and are less put off by renovated pieces.”
Business at the Collab has slowed a bit as people freed from pandemic restrictions are now more interested in traveling vs. buying stuff for the home. The business has fewer floor staff than it used to have. But the business remains healthy – and it’s a great place to visit if you’re ever in town.
Peggy Whiteneck is a writer, collector, and dealer living in East Randolph, VT. If you would like to suggest a subject that she can address in her column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.