Antique dealers find success, safety in numbers

In the future, will we be doing more and more of our antique shopping at great indoor centers that cluster many antique shops under one roof? The answer appears to be "yes" as more real estate entrepreneurs in more big cities develop attractive marketing structures that can conveniently house many dealers and service hundreds of visitors a day.

Numerous "interesting little antique shops" in large cities have felt the impact of urban change, soaring rents, increasing crime and theft rates, and insurance premium hikes. Many dealers are finding it is no longer practical nor economically possible to maintain individual shops.

For these, the increasing number of "antique centers" offer such advantages as tight security, an overall ambiance that is generally well lighted and planned to appeal to both dealers and visitors, and a steady traffic flow of potential customers past the door. For decorators, collectors, and the public generally, the centers offer, in a kind of supermarket building, a grand variety of antiquities, artifacts, and collectibles.

One of the most successful is the nearly two-year-old Le Louvre des Antiquaires, at 2 Place du Palais Royal in Paris. This permanent antiques center sits in the heart of the city, within easy walking distance of such hotels as the Maurice, Intercontinental, Ritz, Hilton, and Lotti, near the Tuileries, and facing the Museum of the Louvre, the Comedie-Francaise, and the gardens of the Palais Royal.

The historic building was put up in 1852, during the reign of Napoleon III, to be the Grand Hotel du Louvre, the largest and finest hotel in Paris. Around the turn of the century it was converted into a department store, Les Grands Magasins du Louvre. After the store failed in 1970 the building was purchased by officers of the British Post Office's retirement fund with the idea of converting the first three floors into an antiques center and the upper floors to office space.

The fund spent $140 million on a splendid renovation of the building that produced an antiques center, dramatically contemporary in feeling, with sleek staircases, superb lighting, and skylight-covered, landscaped interior courtyards. This kind of investment, the New York Times reported, could be justified by the fact that the Paris antiques market has doubled in the past few years to its current $500 million status.

This elegant and architecturally eloquent Paris center for antiques opened Oct. 28, 1978, with 80 percent of its spaces leased. Today it is the showcase of 247 top-quality dealers who show an impressive melange of furniture, fine art , toys, clothing, carpets and tapestries, scientific instruments, coins, Oriental art, stamps, books, posters, and various other antiquities.

One of the dealers is Robert Prefontaine, who with his American partner, Sheldon Barr, owns Tourbillon, a shop specializing in art nouveau, art deco, and Tiffany lamps. Much of their stock has made the return trip from the United States, although the partners constantly search out objects of the period that were made in France, Austria, Holland, Belgium, and Germany, and by Liberty of London in England. Mr. Prefontaine declares that business is very good, but that prices continue to go up, up, up, to a point he finds a little frightening.

Another dealer, Charlotte Flourens, has been buying and selling antiques to Parisians and people from the French provinces for over 20 years. Her specialty is English antiques, which she finds mainly in Wales. "The French love English furnishings," she says. "The gateleg table never existed in France, you know."

She speaks enthusiastically about her present shop in the antiques center. "I get customers from all over the world. Far more real connoisseurs come here than to the flea market. My total sales have gone up and I find I can buy and sell better things. It is a pleasure to do business here."

Madame Flourens and other dealers like the center's strong regulations that keep quality high and do not allow copies or reproductions. Certificates of authenticity are given to those purchasers who request them.

Both dealers and customers benefit from general services offered in the center, such as a cabinetmaker's workshop for any necessary restoration or repair. A specialist forwarding agent will handle crating and shipping of antiques and deal with customs formalities. Language interpreters, credit facilities, photographic studios, a gourmet restaurant, and a large exhibition hall add to the center's appeal. Part of the basement level has been set aside for the boutiques of jewelers and goldsmiths.

For Paris, Le Louvre des Antiquaires offers a new upbeat antique market in an unusually central and historic location.

London is the city where the goods and chattels of centuries change hands in quaint and colorful street markets such as Portobello Road and Bermondsey, in great auction houses, and in very proper antique shops.

But in London, too, the antiques "supermarket" idea has been evolving since a young collector-entrepreneur, Benny Gray, opened his first assemblage of shops under one roof over a decade ago. His aim is to make antique shopping convenient and fun, and to offer regular hours, competitive prices, and arranged shipping.

Today Mr. Gray operates three of the dozen or so antiques centers now in London. Gray's Mews occupies a restored Victorian warehouse at 1-7 Davies Mews, and Gray's is at 58 Davies Street. The third, Alfie's at 13 Church Street, NW 8 , is an amusing collection of shops which offer old lace, textiles, furniture, old tiles, and the like.

More than 300 stalls cluster in his first two centers. Several shops feature 19th- and 20th-century art nouveau and art deco jewelry and objects, and Victorian dolls, toys, games.

Of the remaining marts, the Antique Hypermarket at 26 Kensington High Street offers fine furniture and decorative accessories. The Furniture Cave, 553 King's Road, houses 12 dealers in an abandoned brewery.

In New York, the successful and thriving Manhattan Art and Antiques Center, at 1050 Second Avenue, is now in its sixth year. This center, with more than 70 shops, has a constant waiting list of dealers wanting to come in. Under the direction of Stephen Roedler, it has become a model to be studied and adapted by developers in many other cities. It is open seven days a week and is a major visitor attraction with its Persian, Oriental, European, and American antiques.

Another antiques center that is fast becoming a prime tourist attraction is San Francisco's Heritage Place. Paul Vida opened the center three years ago after buying and restoring the old Mutual Biscuit factory building near the Civic Center. Sixty dealers show their wares here in individually rented spaces , but all selling is handled by the center's own sales staff.

Heritage Place is San Francisco's only one-stop antiques market. It also offers an art gallery, a rental hall, and a garden room. For at least half the dealers, the center is their secondary exhibition and sales space. A majority of the dealers show European antiques.

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