Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
how NOT to behave when you’re out vintage shopping
As the world spins on its axis and every day brings fresh indignities to our news cycle, timeless and well-made vintage items persist as a reminder of a bygone era to which many seem to want to return, except this time with a good wireless connection. The problem is, it’s getting harder to sustain brick-and-mortar vintage stores where you can go in the flesh to buy something to make you feel better about your status as a human being. Because of market pressures and The Way People Are, increasingly the only places you can buy well-made old stuff is out of people’s garages, or online.
One of Eau Claire’s finest vintage furniture stores – Spaced Out Furnishings – no longer exists in a brick-and-mortar format, and is moving its entire existence online. This is not a new thing. Spaced Out is following a trend that people who have been in the business a while understand: Nobody pays enough for cool vintage stuff – especially in small towns, where to the uninitiated, “vintage” can easily be confused with “junk.” It’s not.
Let’s say the dealer humors them and gives them an estimate.
Then the person goes home and puts said chair on eBay and sells it themself. Buzzz. Foul. What’s wrong with this, you say? Well. That’s like going to a restaurant and asking for a favorite recipe, and then going home with that recipe and opening a new restaurant out of your garage.
I once had been under the impression that I was dating an antiques dealer in St. Paul. His store, which had existed for more than 17 years in the same charming location, closed up a few years ago, and as far as I understand, now enjoys a similar online existence. This antiques dealer sometimes lamented a few customer behaviors that added to the strain of continuing in his brick-and-mortar existence. I will share them for you here now, so that you may reflect on your own guilt and do better in the future.
1. Give me free advice.
It’s not uncommon for people to go to an antiques store just to ask how much money they can get for some old chair that’s been sitting in the basement for decades. Maybe the chair is cool, maybe it’s not. It doesn’t matter. Let’s say the dealer humors them and gives them an estimate. Then the person goes home and puts said chair on eBay and sells it themself. Buzzz. Foul. What’s wrong with this, you say? Well. That’s like going to a restaurant and asking for a favorite recipe, and then going home with that recipe and opening a new restaurant out of your garage. It’s a bad look.
Pro tip: Cease and desist. Don’t be a jerk. Do your own research.
2. “I’ll be back.”
While certainly not limited to vintage/antiques shoppers, customers in vintage shops do have a propensity to stand for long periods of time in front of an item – staring, staring, staring – without buying said item. Oftentimes, they then excuse themselves quickly (or worse, ask to use the bathroom). “I’ll be back,” they promise. And then they vanish into the ether forever and ever. Or maybe they just go to Ikea. Either way, it’s a death.
Pro tip: Stop looking at it. Just buy it. Thank you.
3. Let’s talk about everything forever.
Antiques dealers can be very personable types. They are charming and have good taste. Sometimes they are even good-looking. Any of this might lead you to believe that you should stand there and tell them about every medical procedure everybody in your family has ever had, or about the long and arduous journey your ancestors endured while immigrating by handmade raft from their native country of Latvia. This is great, but – reality check – antiques dealers are working. Or at least, they’re trying to.
Pro tip: Shut up and buy something.
These are just a few of the challenges that vintage and antiques dealers face, and we didn’t even get into the main ones, which, of course, are financial. It takes money to provide things of good taste to an impassive general public that is often disturbingly okay with particle board. It also takes a bit of money to buy those things. So next time you’re standing in front of a cool vintage thing made of actual wood or metal or whatever, and you’re thinking, “I don’t want to spend this much, and also I wonder if this storekeeper can tell me how much I can get for that broken futon in my living room” – stop yourself. Just pay for the thing. Be nice to the shopkeeper but keep moving. And hopefully, if we’re lucky, we’ll still have a few vintage stores to shop at in the flesh.