Published: May 26, 2020
By Greg Smith
UNITED STATES – Similar, in metaphor only, to relearning how to walk following a devastating injury, antiques dealers are opening up their shops as state-mandated retail closures expire around the United States. They do not know what to expect, but they are taking every precaution for their employees and customers as they get back to business.
In Stamford, Conn., the Antique and Artisan Gallery opened its doors on Wednesday, May 20. The group shop will be open to the public during normal business hours, but is limiting the amount of people inside at one time to maintain social distancing. The gallery said many clients have arranged appointments to come in, and they prefer visitors call prior to visiting.
“We are very excited on the re-opening of our gallery,” said Joe Ward. “The store is looking fabulous, with newly styled booths and new merchandise throughout. We have been preparing for weeks so our clients can feel safe shopping here.”
Visitors will find hand sanitizer dispensers installed around the gallery as employees do a full sanitization of the store daily. They have also marked the floors with arrows so shopping traffic is kept one way, similar to some grocery stores and pharmacies.
Up the coast and a bit inland in Colchester, Conn., Arthur Liverant of Nathan Liverant and Son opened his gallery on the same day.
“We are going to open and we have some rules that we’re going to follow,” Liverant said. “These rules protect our visitors and ourselves.”
No more than four people will be allowed in the gallery for the time being, and that includes a rotating crew of two employees. Visitors to the shop are requested to make an appointment, and no more than two people in a party may visit at once. The gallery will provide a two-hour window for each appointment, and Liverant said visitors and customers can use that as they please.
“We don’t expect people to stand in line waiting to get in and take numbers,” he said, “this will be a slow process until people get confident. But we hope people come and enjoy the experience without feeling awkward or challenged or stressed by coming here. You don’t have to come in and buy something, visitors can walk around and enjoy the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century inventory like they always have.”
Employees will wear masks and the gallery requests visitors wear masks as well. If visitors do not have one, they will be supplied with one. They recommend people wear gloves as well, and will have them available for use, in addition to hand sanitizer at the entrance to the gallery. They have committed to cleaning surfaces and any public rooms, including the lavatories, daily.
Liverant was due to celebrate his gallery’s 100th anniversary this year, but depending on how things go, he says he may instead celebrate the 101st.
“I would not sacrifice one person to save the economy,” he said. “A life in America has always been the highest priority. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the mentality that people are dispensable, so we are approaching this from a very conservative manner.”
In Westport, Conn., dealer Glen Leroux of Glen Leroux Antiques said his shop opened its door on May 20. A customer came in with a mask and glove and Leroux had the same. Leroux requires a mask of all customers and will wear one himself. He will provide disinfectant as well.
When asked if he was excited to reopen, he said frankly, “No. I’m kind of devastated. I’ve been dealing 37 years and now its 30 years with a store, and the way the market was going, I was really supporting my store with the shows. I have no shows now.”
He said he’ll continue to try to move merchandise online and sell excess inventory through auctions in the near future.
Leroux said the shop will keep regular hours, 10:30 am to 4 pm.
Litchfield, Conn., dealer Jeff Tillou of Jeffrey Tillou Antiques said he is open by chance or appointment right now and plans to open normal hours on June 2.
“I am excited to open the doors,” he said. “I look forward to seeing people access the inventory – not just to buy, but come and look, too. We’re fortunate in Litchfield County that we haven’t had many hotspots. If people come and follow the rules, they can walk around and enjoy the three floors. If I find there are more than five people in the gallery, I will ask some people to wait downstairs.”
Tillou said all visitors should wear masks and he will provide gloves if they want to handle objects.
The off-time has given Tillou a chance to hone his photography with the help of his son, who studies filmmaking. He has two photography studios set up now and sends out weekly email blasts that do a good job to sell inventory.
Further north in Westmoreland, N.H., Flying Pig Antiques opened Friday, May 22, and will resume normal hours every day from 10 am to 5 pm.
Roxanne Reuling said, “We will be following New Hampshire state guidelines that require face masks and enforcing social distancing, plus monitoring the number of people allowed in the building at one time.”
On its opening weekend, the group shop erected an outdoor tent with sale items to help give people space.
Since the location was closed in mid-March, the group shop launched an Etsy store and has listed more than 1,250 items and sold about a quarter of them.
“The site was very well-received, and we have gotten wonderful reviews from customers as well as our dealers,” Reuling said. “We plan to continue to use our online selling platform on Etsy even after the shop reopens.
“We are excited for life to return to the new normal, and like everyone else, we are trying to navigate how the new rules apply that will shape our business.”
In Bellows Falls, Vt., the Windham Antiques Center, which houses 12 dealers in its gallery, opened up again on May 22. Owner Michael Bruno said the shop would be open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm.
Employees at the center will wear masks and customers are required to wear them as well.
“We’re excited about reopening,” Bruno said, “while taking extra precautions to make sure everyone stays safe, but it is nice to get back into it. We’re excited to see some of our customers again.”
Bruno said it will be the same shop customers have always known, but with more merchandise. They have set up appointments for dealers to come and individually restock their booths for the opening.
Down in Galena, Md., Paul Thien is opening his group shop Firehouse Antiques with a new look.
“We completely reconfigured 25 percent of the front of the shop,” Thien said. “We moved the command center to a new location to open up the space and installed two glass doors to let in natural light. Somehow, in doing all that, we have visually expanded the shop.”
Thien said he has rented spaces to three new dealers that plan to move in before June 1.
“Firehouse Antiques has risen from the pandemic ashes,” he said.
Guidelines that the shop will follow include social distancing, masks, disinfectant and gloves. The store will operate at 50 percent capacity, which means about ten people. Thien said the new floor plan will allow for ease of separation.
As galleries and shops open, they navigate the “new normal.” It comes with uncertainty, changing regulations and new processes. But it also comes with hope and a sense of normalcy, both welcome following a traumatic injury to commerce across the country.
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