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Video: Antiques market in a slump

By Greg Murphy

BELLEVILLE – Funk & Gruven in downtown Belleville was once a popular place to buy dusty old family heirlooms, highly valued art pieces, and beautifully quaint furniture of teak, pine and oak.

The owner, Mike Malachowski, said he used to sell antiques bought from collectors across the Quinte region and Prince Edward County straight off the back of his truck before he could haul them inside his cozy emporium on Bridge Street East.

But those days are in decline.

On a snowy Tuesday afternoon, his shop stays quiet, save for the soft sound of classical music and jazz. The pungent smell of wood varnish and cleaner wafts around the clutter of furniture that extends outward from every wall – from every corner. A thin snaking path is left to walk through the store from the front to the back, and only a handful of customers come in, mostly just to browse or to seek shelter from the cold.

“When I first opened this store, the traffic was different than it is now…people no longer have the disposable income to buy antiques just for their beauty and value,” Malachowski said.

Collectibles, like highly valued art pieces, are still in demand for the few who can afford to buy them, he said. For the most part, he’s seen a steady decline in the everyday customer collecting antiques. Now, he says, people want antiques that serve for more than beauty or for the feeling of nostalgia they bring.

“Today, an item has to have more than one function to really be in demand. In other words, it has to be beautiful, but it has to provide a function,” said Malachowski, shaking his head. A cabinet to place a television inside or a buffet to hold expensive silverware, for example, are among the most popular items he said that still sell rather well.

Many old relics that lie on the crowded shelves of Funk & Gruven will be bound for an outlet centre in Prince Edward County to be sold at a discount.

“You know, every once in a while we look around here and think, ‘Well, that’s been here too long. We’ve tried to sell that. It’s had its chance,’ ” he said

The problem, Malachowski said, is that the antique supply is far too high for demand.

Belleville antiques appraiser Mike Wilcox says that as baby boomers look to retirement, when their children go off to school or to work, many of them are downsizing from a large space to a smaller one – a leading cause of the high supply of antiques

“When kids go off to school, their parents now have these large houses,” said Wilcox. “They have two, sometimes three generations of things that have been collected in their household and it’s all being put back on the market right now.”

That means business is good for Wilcox; people looking to get rid of antiques make up his clientele. If people sell their old relics – or buy new ones – they often want to know their market value, he said.

Malachowski said the key to saving the antique market is to educate consumers.

“Buy something that’s already stood the test of time, that when you sell it again, it will hold value. There’s great opportunity to buy really good-quality things for a fraction of what they once were and for far less compared to something new of poor quality.”