FORT WAYNE – An old-time bell tinkles when the front door of Bruce Chaneys antiques store opens, and often, his dog Bess, a friendly corgi-chow mix, is part of the welcome committee.
While Bess might be convinced that customers arrive for the sole purpose of scratching her ears, most visitors enter Chaneys shop out of curiosity. Flags reading Antiques flutter in front of the driveway, and weathered pieces attached to the building help attract customers into the square, red brick store off Roanoke Road.
When people come in, I always ask them, Are you looking for anything in particular? Chaney says. Their response is, No, I just like to look.
And theres a lot to look at in his Antiques From Bruce store.
From the polished silver service sets to the $4,000 illuminated Rothchild oil painting to the ships captain desk circa 1820 on sale for $1,650 and the several portraits in their original, oval frames, Chaneys collection is impressive. But the days are often lonely, with just him and Bess and the soothing sounds of recorded classical music.
When the economy went south several years ago, the antiques business also took a downward turn.
Its changed, more than anything, says Jenelle Webb, owner of Natures Corner Antique Mall, located at the corner of Spy Run Avenue and State Boulevard. People are buying things to use, maybe, as opposed to collect. There are still collectors. There are people who like something and collect it, and hopefully that will never change, and I dont think it will.
The industrys definition of an antique is that it must be 100 years or older – an edict that Chaney adheres to before he brings anything into his shop.
Its not just that the times, they are a-changin in the antique business; theyve already changed.
We still have antiques, says Sasha Hullinger, store manager with the Country Shops of Grabill. But the thing is, antique dealers are kind of dying off, so we decided to go more towards the flea market sort of branding. We ended up going from 12 vendors to 150 vendors in the period of about a year.
Upstairs has opened up again, and our sales have gone up drastically.
With its rustic surroundings, complete with a thriving Amish community, the store in Grabill had long been a popular destination for shoppers in search of antiques and items with a primitive look.
Now we have something for everybody, Hullinger says. Not everything in the store has to be 100 years old or older. We sell more that way. We have things to compliment the country lifestyle.
With the economy, we had to figure something out. Its been a good decision for us. We werent sure in the beginning how it was going to go. It was either that, or just continue to decline in sales, so we had to try something.
Chaney and Webb agree that the customers have changed. The older crowds antique-buying days are mostly behind them; theyre satisfied with what they have and have slowed down on making purchases. Meanwhile, the younger buyers – those in their 30s and early 40s – dont appear to be as discriminating when it comes to seeking strictly antiques.
There are some young people who have purchased homes and have decided they would like to have antiques, Chaney says. They dont necessarily know what they are buying as far as a good piece of period furniture or a piece of Empire furniture – but its a piece that they like.
Oak furniture, says Chaney, used to be the rage. But now I understand, from other dealers, that market has dried up also.
Not everyone is in the market for a $4,000 Rothchild painting or a silver tea set. Some items, however, are more popular than others.
Antiques can be trendy, says Jean Wise with the Fort Wayne Appraisers Guild. Some things will be collectible, like R.S. Prussia, which is very fine German porcelain. I can think back 30 years ago; that was hot; not so hot anymore. But things can be trendy; that they go up and down. Somebody collects it, and somebody else thinks its nice and they start collecting, and it spreads.
So what could be considered the trendy antique nowadays? Pie racks and Mason or Ball jars.
A few years ago, I had a whole garage full of Ball jars and Mason jars. I wouldnt even bring them into the store, says Webb. Now I cant keep them in the store. So go figure.