Why do we collect antiques? Is it the urge to have a piece of history, the desire to preserve something from a time period we wonder about, or the more basic human instinct of gathering? What attracts us to learning about bygone eras—why do some devote their entire lives to studying them? Perhaps it is a quest to understand where we come from, and what our lives might have been like, say, 100 years ago. Or maybe it’s as simple as appreciating a moment in time from which an object was born.
An assemblage can say a lot about its owner. Some collections seem to capture a feeling: wooden toys, dolls, comic books, and action figures. Others are drawn from everyday life: cookbooks and aprons, domestic tools, baskets. For others still, the thrill is in the incredibly precious and rare. No matter the preference, antiques can feel like an intimate, private experience, sharing the same item as a person who lived before. These pieces were witness to myriad events and scenes. If only they could talk.
Buying antiques used to mean a trip to a dealer, but with sites like eBay, it’s much easier to shop for items with legitimate pedigree without leaving the comfort of home. However, buying online deprives one of the tactile experience of the antique store. The sounds, smells, weight of each object and its particular patina are lost in an online world, no matter how convenient. Perhaps this is why antique stores still thrive.
To open a shop takes a knowledge base of history, an understanding of collections, and, perhaps most importantly, an eye. Estate sales, flea markets, and garage sales contain gems, but only with knowledge of how to find them. The eye is at once instinctual and incredibly deceiving, but a few good investments can mean the difference between making a go of a business and closing the doors. In Vancouver, Main Street has been the location to buy antiques, both currently and historically. From the very rare to the common, the traditional and the trendy, Main originally attracted the characterful shops that grew to define it because rents were lower than more traditional shopping neighbourhoods. The eclectic residents also had an appetite for items that might not be found elsewhere. As each new store opened its doors, relationships grew between customers and shop owners, and soon, a vintage, one-of-a-kind community was born.
Every type of antique store can be found on Main: consignment clothing and furniture, knickknacks and found objects, fine china and war memorabilia. Along the corridor, shoppers will find prints and mementos at A Baker’s Dozen; furniture and mirrors at The Main Sellution; reclaimed wood at Red Rose Antiques; glassware at J&J Antiques; refurbished industrial items at JoJo’s Place; curios and other small items at The Source. Though not quite the vibrant Antique Row that it was once known as, Main’s current offering of antique shops presents a storied look at antiquing past and present. One of the more recent additions to the neighbourhood is ReFind, a vintage store devoted to midcentury furniture and objects. ReFind is really a sign of the times, with a mission and vision to “re-love” locally-sourced furniture with a dedication to the recycling of previously loved items at fair costs. The motto of Re-Use / Re-Cycle / Re- Find is an unexpected aspect of antiques that makes the store attractive to a new generation: it’s environmentally friendly. Collecting a piece built 40 years ago as opposed to something brand new keeps waste out of the landfills, and for a few dollars more, a beautiful wooden piece can be sanded and polished to last for years. Buying items meant to be cared for is coming back in vogue, and a few well-placed dollars can result in pieces to be passed down through generations.
It is perhaps this aspect of antiques that will guarantee the survival of this unique corridor, which, like any neighbourhood, has its share of threats. The rising rents in Vancouver have meant more than a few stores have shuttered, and while the community is still strong, they are less in numbers. It’s hopeful that more than a few residents want to keep Vancouver’s unique neighbourhoods and preserve their histories.
There are probably several reasons each new generation has continued to collect antiques: indeed, dealing is an ancient pastime. Maybe it has to do with trends. Certain eras come and go from fashion, and new items previously thought to be worthless gain significance once again. It is ultimately several pieces of that puzzle, coming into play together, that will allow Main to continue to furnish the needs of the next generation of avid collectors.
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