Adventures in Antiquing


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Scrounging around in a bin of old silverware at an antiques and collectibles mall is a pleasant way to fritter away a San Diego afternoon. The county has a growing number of shops, malls and entire city blocks where someone else’s old stuff has been elevated to collectible or even antique status.

The competition to get customers in the doors for everything from valuable antique furniture to collectible glassware and 1930s postcards is fierce. It turns out San Diego County just may be a bargain-hunters’ paradise—simply because San Diegans are not aware of what is here.

“Gosh knows San Diegans are aware that we pay a lot for real estate, but most people in the business will tell you there are great bargains even on quality antiques here,” says Timothy Akins, co-owner of Relics, one of the dozens of antiques and collectibles stores that line La Mesa Boulevard. “We have pieces—like really rare American antiques —that are two or three times more expensive on the East Coast.”

His proof is other dealers. They’re coming to San Diego to buy, Akins and other local dealers say, because a lot of family inventories have arrived here over the years with transplants. Inevitably, a lot of those belongings end up in estate sales.

We’re not talking, necessarily, about zillion-dollar collections of 14th-century French furniture—but well-kept pieces of just about anything of value that someone, somewhere will pay for. The eclectic tastes of San Diegans have created a huge variety of offerings—for casual shoppers on a budget all the way up to serious wealthy, collectors whose decorators haunt the stores.

Very hot right now is anything from the 1950s and ’60s. The furniture and lamps of those decades are considered vintage—though not old enough to fit into the U.S. government’s definition of antique, which is anything more than 100 years old. What you couldn’t give away even 10 years ago now brings hundreds of dollars. However, your mom’s solid-wood stereo cabinet (more useful these days as a bar or storage console) and those formerly hideous lamps are in competition with shabby chic, Art Deco, Mission style, English, French, Italian, Asian furniture—all of them popular, all of them plentiful in San Diego.

“San Diego is such a mishmosh of different architectures that variety is the key to success” for dealers, says John Flores of Newport Avenue Antiques, a 7,000-foot store in Ocean Beach in which 25 vendors lease space. “We have to be creative and keep up with the times.”

July through September are considered the slow months in the antiques and collectibles business, one reason why bargains are to be had in the stores right now. “It’s all about turning things over,” says Akins. “If you price things over what local buyers will pay, you might as well become a museum.”

Akins and others make no bones about the fact it’s a big part of their business to sell to other dealers as well. While industry experts say dealers usually offer each other 20 or 30 percent lower prices, San Diego dealers say they often negotiate higher prices from other dealers than they would from local shoppers. “I had a European dealer come in and spend $4,000 on a Davenport desk,” Akins says, “and tell me he could get $30,000 for it when he gets home.”

Many local store owners also spend a great deal of time at shows in Los Angeles, Anaheim or Las Vegas, where consumers pay more for a piece of furniture than it would bring at a San Diego antiques store. The owners agree they can get at least 30 percent to 50 percent more in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

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