Antique buys give many pause

Annual show's vendors find crowds at convention center slower to buy

September 06, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Officially, Katie Crowley was at the Baltimore Summer Antiques Fair to sell, not to buy. But, on a break from her duties at her father's antique stand yesterday, the 19-year-old wandered through the 545 stalls set up at the Baltimore Convention Center.

She paused at a stand dedicated to vintage eyeglasses, where a hexagonal pair of 1950s gray French frames caught her attention.

"They're really unique," she said, with a big smile as she tried them on.

But they cost $150, so Crowley of Milford, Mich., had to consult with her father before buying them.

She was not the only one pausing before spending. Many customers at the three-day event that ended yesterday chose to examine items more carefully than usual before buying, if they bought at all.

"People are not in a buying mood," said Lee Temares of Plandome, N.Y., who has sold antique series books at the fair for 14 years. "They are in a holding pattern to see what will happen in the election, in Iraq and certainly the news from Russia will have an impact."

There was plenty to see. A pristine first edition of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye (priced at $19,500) was on sale in the Antiquarian Book Fair section. One stall contained clocks and watches, another was chockablock with chandeliers, and another overflowed with Persian carpets. There was Civil War memorabilia and costume jewelry. For just less than $9,000, a buyer could get a tortoise shell tea caddie.

"We are one of the largest shows in the country," said Frank Farbenbloom, who founded the annual event in 1980. "This show draws people from all over; we've had calls from people who want to plan their weddings around it, from people who plan their vacations to Baltimore around it."

Farbenbloom said that about 90 percent of the vendors who sell at the show sign up to return the next year and he has a waiting list of vendors eager to participate.

Farbenbloom was disappointed with attendance, although it was on track to be 12,000, about the same as it was the previous year. "I felt we should be at least 1,000 people ahead, because of the extra advertising we did this year," he said.

His wife, Elaine, agreed. "The serious buyers are coming," she said, "But the average person on the street? You aren't seeing as many of them as you have in the past."

And those who came were not necessarily buying.

"I'm looking to see what my 1804 corner cupboard is worth," said Bob O'Reilly, 78, of Fallston.

His wife, Madeleine, 75, was examining silverware -- looking for the pattern she owns. "We like to see what we've got [at home] under our nose," she said.

"I haven't bought anything yet," said Violet Landreth, 50, of Greensboro, N.C. For the past five years, she and her husband have come to the fair to look for antique silver. "The economy, it makes us think long and hard before I buy something."

However, vendors had adjusted their expectations.

"The show's been good," said Martin Sarullo of Ambiance Antiques in Roslyn, N.Y., who was hoping to sell a serving dish to Landreth. "It's been better other years, but considering the economy it's been good. These are luxury items; most people worry about how to pay their bills."

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