Veteran retail writer Grace Wilson takes the plunge and opens her own booth filled with the cool and the collectible in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
Find your niche
Looking around the Bay St. Louis antique scene, dealers have it fully covered. What’s your passion?
Mid-century modern furniture, folk art, found art, bottles, buttons, music memorabilia, interesting instruments, antique dolls... it’s easy to spot the many passions of collectors represented in the antique shops of Old Town. If you have a penchant for something, chances are others do, too.
My collecting started out with Pez dispensers. From there it was anything with a mushroom on it – which was a lot of vintage kitchen wear. That mushroomed in to barware and ashtrays.
When I had a baby, all that was packed up and stuffed animals (especially flamingos) found their place in my life. Stepping back, I saw I had a nice mix of mommy and baby items that needed new homes and The Captain and Pearl was born in the French Potager.
“Booths are an extension of the dealer’s personalities,” said French Potager owner Martha Whitney Butler. “My booth has stuff from all over the world because I love to travel. Everybody’s different.”
Mix Old and New
Yes, Bay St. Louis is known around the Gulf Coast for being a mecca of antiques. Thanks to shops like Social Chair, Bay-Tique (and many more) shoppers are also loving the contemporary offerings of our town.
Some of the best booths I’ve seen in town have a blend of antiques and almost-new items. A newly embroidered pillow gives an old chair a pop of life. Stick new magnets on an old piece of tin. At Captain and Pearl, we display new items (like our BSL Shirts that benefit Ruth’s Roots community garden) in vintage luggage.
Tell a Story
It’s a modern day mantra: Tell a story.
But what does that mean? In the antiques business, they’ve lived and died by this rule for generations. A pocket watch is just a pocket watch. A pocket watch owned by a famous general and worn in the Civil War - now that’s something special. You place items in a certain time and place in history, and suddenly they take on a whole new meaning.
And it doesn’t have to be a hundred year old story to make it appealing. We put out some pretty cool handmade toys from Mexico, which didn’t move. We decided to give each one a name and write “Handmade in Mexico” on the tag and it gave them a new level of personality and interest.
Refresh All the Time
The best booth owners visit their booths as often as they can to refresh and reshuffle things. Patti Fullilove, who dedicates herself to booths both in Antique Maison and French Potager, visits her booths every day. (#DealerGoals)
It’s helpful to see what people bought, but you can also see what they are picking up. Even if you don’t add or edit new inventory every day, just shuffling things around gives the booth a breath of fresh air, which keeps shoppers coming back.
Get into Your Customers Heads (and Homes)
Customers respond to a curated booth. Things make more sense if there’s a theme or items are in context. If you have lots of vintage barware, put it on a bar cart with some booze bottles and cocktail napkins. Put pictures you snap locally in old frames to make them feel relevant.
Keep in mind, lots of folks on the hunt for antiques like to dig. Have a section in your booth that lets them do just that, but don’t have so many items that people will get overwhelmed. Some people feel most comfortable shopping in retail stores so take cues from your favorite shops on the best way to display your items. Most importantly, help your clients visualize your items in their own homes.