- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

WOODBURY, Conn. | Walking what used to be a busy trail of antiques shops in this western Connecticut hamlet now is a lonely, quiet trek.

Throughout New England and the U.S., antiques dealers are having a difficult time drawing customers, canceling major shows from Boston to Minnesota as would-be buyers scale back on purchases during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“It’s awful,” said Ann Beckman, co-owner of Grass Roots Reruns, one of more than two dozen shops operating in a row of historic Woodbury homes and rustic barns. “A lot of people have just dropped out. You have to be able to weather the storm.”

A multimillion-dollar industry dominated by mom-and-pop shops and part-time enthusiasts, antiques dealers across the country are feeling the pinch.

Organizers canceled the 50th anniversary Ellis Antiques Show in Boston and the Chicago Botanical Garden Antiques & Garden Fair and Preview and haven’t decided when they’ll be rescheduled.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts also canceled its 2009 show, one year after marking the event’s 25th anniversary.

“It was purely economical,” said Kim Cameron, who was to be co-chairman of the show. “It was not a fun decision to make and not fun to do on my watch,” she said.

Connecticut’s Farmington Antiques Weekend will still take place June 13 and 14 despite losing its major sponsor, Country Home magazine, after the publication folded this year.

Organizers expect about 200 vendors and up to 5,000 shoppers during the two-day period, according to Jon Jenkins, whose family annually organizes that show and 17 others.

He’s using a blog, Web site and e-mail to keep his customer base coming.

“It definitely takes customers with money in their pockets to make this business work,” Mr. Jenkins said. “But deep down inside, people like the stuff. Antiques are the physical objects that connect our collective past. They evoke memories. … Nobody ever sits and looks at the vase they ordered from Crate and Barrel with a great story about how they bought it on the Internet.”

Overall, sales have slowed, said Lita Solis-Cohen of the Maine Antique Digest. Small venues are faring the worst, she said, and high-end antiques are being held in reserve or are only being sold in private.

“The auction houses discouraged people from putting very, very good things in the market because they were afraid they would fail,” Miss Solis-Cohen said.

But for those who have money, prices are good. “When wonderful things come up, there are people with money who understand them and they are willing to pay a very good price for it,” she said.

Store owners back in Woodbury are also trying to woo customers, using sales and trade magazine advertisements. They are also lobbying for freeway signs that would direct motorists toward their historic district.

Gail Lettick, president of the Woodbury Antiques Dealers Association, says buyers are pickier and less prone to impulse shopping. Customers are focusing on utilitarian items such as tables, chairs and bureaus.

“No one has lost their passion, it’s just that their pocketbooks are a little less full, or a lot less full,” Miss Lettick said.

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