Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Post nuclear shopping
There is a subspecies in the antiques hierarchy called pickers, a semi itinerant band of dealers who will sell things to you wholesale. Most of us couldn't survive without them. If a picker brings me something often I will purchase it even if it is ugly or totally useless because you want them to keep bringing you things. Because the next thing might be really good. Often I will overpay for things to stay at the head of the line. You have to take care of your pickers.
Leslie and I paid our dues waking up at three in the morning to do the flea markets, something my mother did as well on the east coast. Many of the people we worked with are still at it, and my hat is off to them. It is backbreaking, tiring, dirty, difficult and sometimes thankless work. Some shows, like the old Westside Show, would get horrible wind storms in the afternoons and shit would invariably fall and break. We have some serious war stories of these traumatic events. You work all week to find something to sell and then the vultures come and prey on you on Sunday.
We did pretty well at the fleas for a few years and then my tastes got a little too extravagant and people would beeline around our tent. We then sought out the more elegant world of the expensive indoor shows. But in our heyday we were doing 35 flea markets a year.
I decided to go shopping today. I brought a big stack of business cards so that I could at least try to network if I didn't find anything to buy. Before the advent of the internet, when I was the cocky cross country antique shopper, I would say that you could drop me off with $50.00 in any small town in america with an antique mall and I would turn it into $500.00 in a week. You used to find great stuff anywhere but when the little old lady in Dubuque discovered ebay, everything got sucked out of the stores, stuck online and prices dropped to nothing. Because now things don't appreciate. There are no market makers and little magic, since all the prices everyone has ever paid for anything is known. Things go directly to the end user and they quickly lost interest. Commodities once considered scarce suddenly turned up all over the place.
I was going to flip a coin and see if I should go north or south and stuck on north. I hit the malls in Temecula and found nothing but did have a pleasant visit with Doc and his wife at Temecula Traders, two fine people that have been in the game since christ was a a corporal. Bought some licorice jelly beans at Granny's but nothing grabbed me merchandise wise. Hit 4 or 5 different shops but it all looked pretty tired. I am one of those top of the tertiary food chain predators who wants the best of the best.
I passed an interesting pub, The Public House and called up my friend Cam in Salinas for some advice. "Cam, it's 10:30 a.m., I just drove by what looked like a nice bar, should I shop today or go in and drink all day?"
"What town are you in?"
"Try the shots." Now if Cam had been there I guarantee I would have sat there getting toasted all day and be now nursing a seriously major hangover but I marshaled on and kept moving forward in my pursuit of treasures.
I rolled up to Lake Elsinore, only to find most of the old shops closed. I admit I haven't shopped there in at least five years, and the town is hurting a little bit. Like most towns. I went into the only shop that was open, Mora's and was really taken with how nice everything looked and the beautiful presentation when I realized that it was owned by a woman and her daughter that I knew back in my early days. Collector magazine had run some sordid, dire tales of my medical condition several years ago and they wanted to know if I was ok. Vicki and her daughter Jamie are really nice, has a lovely shop and her son Chad is creating the cool Posada artwork pictured above and I hear doing quite well.
Lake Elsinore was a major destination in the early part of the last century, especially amongst the yids but went to seed somewhere along the way. The lake has just about dried up. Typical inland empire problems and one of the skankier locales but still full of some very nice people in one of the few affordable places around. Someday, someone is going to do something with that town because it really has a lot of potential. Great italian restaurant Vincenzo's that I didn't stop by today.
After Elsinore the day was ensnared by one sleazy inland empire town after another. The road signs read Colton and Riverside and Grand Terrace and Yucaipa. La Sierra, Redlands, Beaumont, Banning, Hemet and Loma Linda and all sorts of other places that never quite caught the prosperity bug. It seems the bloom left the those buds long ago. Yucaipa used to be full of shops, now it's down to three. Ditto Riverside. I picked up a few trinkets including a couple of Dresden black minstrel figurines and distributed a number of business cards, hoping that one day someone will bring a great painting in and think of me. I tried to hit every little shop I could find, even the ones I never stop into, getting a good day of exercise if nothing else. Grabbed a sandwich near the Mission Inn in Riverside and the only periodical to read was the Black Voice of Riverside newspaper which actually had some great writing and editorials.
So I put on a lot of miles today, mostly fruitlessly but you never know what can happen. I guess the only semi profound thing I can come up with is that the entire area is really hurting, the shops are embarrassingly depleted, and I am lucky to live where I do. And just how many funky brass cutlery sets were manufactured in Siam in the 40's anyway? When I got into the business my mother told me how well she did in african american neighborhoods and I took it to heart, I used to hit all the thrift shops in San Bernardino and Highland. I went into a few today and even they were really picked over and meager. Cam can walk into one and pull out a grueby pot, but no such luck for me.
I gave it my all and got bupkis. I had scored in some of these places before but lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot. Next time I will take my friend's advice and drink.