By Ray Levato
Perhaps a recent review from a satisfied customer of Antique Revival says it best: “This is a serious antique store in little old Big Flats. Huge selection of antiques in excellent condition.”
The review concludes with “Helpful but not pushy staff.” And that pleases owner Mike Watts, who started going to auctions with his parents as a teenager. But he acknowledges the traditional antiques business he’s known for 40 years is in a challenging period. Some of the decline in the current market has to do with demographics, he says, and ultimately, supply and demand. Older Baby Boomers are downsizing now, but the younger generation isn’t as interested in traditional-style antiques. “A Victorian barrel roll secretary desk that would have sold for about $1,500 is now in the $600-$800 range,” Watts explains. The bright side for buyers? “You have solid-quality wood antiques, all handmade, now on a price par with used furniture.”
Younger folks favor more mid-century modern furniture, and arts & crafts pieces with simple lines – a part of the business Antique Revival is now embracing. But that’s not the only major shift in the market. “For many generations, our industry catered to collectors with period-specific interests. It often translated into an item’s value being largely a function of its age. However, the market no longer places a higher value on a piece because ‘it’s old.’ Desirability and value are now primarily based on aesthetic appeal and function, with secondary interest in the antique aspect.”
Bruce Austin, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and director of R.I.T. Press, its not-for-profit scholarly book publishing enterprise, has been an avid collector for 30 years. “The antiques market has always been narrow and shallow,” he says. “Twenty years ago, it was enough to set an item on a table – it could speak for itself. Now you have to actively engage in salesmanship, telling the customer about the historic aspect – the history of the piece for example.”
He adds: “And antique furniture is relatively inexpensive today.”
Buy online or go see for yourself
Museum-quality pieces still retain their value because there’s always a market for them, and Watts is going for that market online. Sixty percent of Antique Revival’s business now comes from social media and new digital sales platforms like 1st Dibs, allowing Watts to cover both national and international markets with worldwide deliveries. “It’s really paying off for us,” he says. “These upscale websites specialize in antiques and art, and that gives us the opportunity to deal with the full range of buyers and interior design professionals.”
But that’s no reason to skip the massive showroom in Big Flats. Antique Revival boasts New York State’s largest selection of antiques and decorative arts, thousands of items from around the world. Inventory includes fine 19th- and 20th-century American and European furniture, fine worldwide porcelain and pottery, vintage lighting including Italian chandeliers, Asian decorative art, Persian and Caucasian oriental rugs, silver, clocks and more. A visit to the impressive 10,000-square-foot showroom is a sensory experience, says Watts. “Pictures can’t always give a true representation of things like fine art and Oriental rugs. Antique Revival welcomes people in the showroom to touch. It’s all about the experience in our retail store – something you can’t get on an iPhone.”
His partner, Vicki Rachel, oversees the store, which also hosts special events that include wine tastings, live music, and charity appraisals. Watts regularly travels to auctions, estate sales and other antique dealers looking for treasures to bring back to the showroom. Reflecting on his vast experience, he thinks of antiques and art as the ultimate in “going green.”
“Nineteenth and 20th-century furniture and fine and decorative arts have a quality and craftsmanship that exhibits a heart-to-hand credo of the artisans who created them. They lend themselves to being cherished and used for many generations to come.”
He continued, “To me, the most interesting aspects of these creations are the stories and hidden histories they tell about us that oftentimes are more valuable than any monetary figure we put on them. From “tramp art,” the anonymous carvings by hobos whose folk-art pieces were created from cigar boxes – to the highly detailed and refined works of painters and sculptors schooled in Paris and London – these stories are mere fibers woven together to create the grand tapestry we call the American Experience.”
Antique Revival is right off I-86 in Big Flats (exit 49) about 10 minutes east of the Corning Museum of Glass.
Ray Levato is a retired reporter and anchor at WHEC-TV Channel 10 in Rochester.