The lines along Texas 237 seemed as long as ever on October 1, the last day of the week-long antique event. In fact, they may have been longer than any in recent memory. The town looked as adorable as ever. Still, several of the dealers we talked to seemed to indicate something is amiss.
The election is a popular scapegoat. Sure, everyone is uneasy about the strange and unsettling political ongoings, and uncertainty about the future can put a damper on shopping. That’s especially true when the shopping in question concerns cultural artifacts, collectibles, and decorations.
One dealer told us that typically at Round Top you make the most sales in the first few hours of the first day. The last day, Saturday is typically busiest, but you don’t always sell much. Indeed, as much as dealers love friendly or less-than-friendly competition, they are each other’s best friend (or at least customer).
At the risk of repeating, did you hear the one about two antique dealers stranded on a desert island? They both made a good living.
The foot traffic may have been great on Saturday, but reports indicate it was not so good this year on Monday. One dealer, used to seeing long lines of cars, saw a clear road after unloading and contributed it to an accident blocking traffic. A bit of dread came over when he realized there hadn’t been an accident.
Dealers know the market has been in a long period of stagnation, and the shows at Round Top have been the exception. A long-time dealer at Marburger who called it “the gift that keeps on giving” a few shows back wasn’t here this time. I missed her but don’t know why she was a no-show. Just a few weeks ago an article ran in Bloomberg titled Now Is the Best Time in Decades to Buy Fancy Antique Furniture. Yeah, but will it be an even better time in six months? It’s hard to tell.
It’s not just furniture; one dealer said painting sales have ground to a halt. It doesn’t matter if they are abstract or traditional, landscapes or midcentury geometric. They just aren’t moving. Of course, we did talk to other dealers who were able to move paintings during the show, but not furniture. And maybe it’s just certain types of furniture that aren’t moving. It’s often the case that dealers like to complain and shut out the carts wheeling furniture from other dealers out the door.
It’s hard to ignore the significant changes going on in the marketplace, however. On the way down I was wondering what the impact of automated vehicles on shows like this would be. That’s down the road a bit. Right now there are a lot of baby boomers lamenting the fact that the younger generations are not collecting at the same clip or are not loving what they spent their lives accumulating.
One painting we were pondering brought an animated, and on the border of angry, response when we declined despite a very affordable price tag. “When you get to be 50 you are not going to have all the nice things I had when I was 50,” he said. Rather than get angry, I took it as a compliment. Hey, I must look a lot younger than 50 to him.
The shows going on around Round Top are numerous. To be fair, I never get to any beyond Red Barn (Original Round Top) and Marburger, and I always go on the last day. That can skew my view. And to be fair, we came home with a trunk full of items; most were had at what we thought to be a good price.
If there is a dip of some sort in the market here, I expect the event’s reputation will get it over the hump. And I expect I will be making the trek for years to come. For now, the Bloomberg article is right. If you like the stuff, buy some antiques. It is a good time, it always is, and Red Barn is a lot more fun than Pottery Barn.