Four Corners Brick House in Gilmanton features 10,000 square feet of space and more than 20 vendors. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
When an item is new, it commands a relatively high price. As time goes on, the value of that item falls, and falls, until it is deemed worthless and discarded. However, some items escape that fate, and something interesting happens – it becomes so old that the market sees it differently, and its value starts to rise again. Anticipating this upward valuation, and seeking out these items while they can still be had at bargain prices, are the antiquers. And the Lakes Region is known as a great place to look for good finds – and many of which won't be found through a website.
At the The Carriage Barn on 249 S. Main Street in Laconia, Glenice Fitzbag is still selling items her father squirreled away decades ago, filling a massive, 19th century barn with things that other people didn't want and he was happy to store until they were wanted again.
Ernest Pelletier, Glenice's father, bought the home and barn at 249 S. Main St. in 1945, after returning from World War II to continue the family moving business. The barn was originally constructed in the 1800s to store horses and carriages belonging to people visiting Laconia. When Pelletier bought it, he saw it as a huge, four-story space he could fill with the things people didn't want to take with them when they hired him to help them move.
"Anything anybody didn't want, he brought it back here and stored it. That's how this got started," Fitzbag said. When he wasn't operating his moving business, she said, her father's hobby was going to yard sales – and the things he bought joined the rest of his collection in the barn.
"He had this place filled. He preferred to go buy the stuff (rather) than to sell it," said Fitzbag.
A retired nurse, Fitzbag has been running Carriage Barn Antiques and Collectibles for 23 years, and she still has boxes of her father's inventory she has yet to unpack. Running her store over the middle two floors of the barn, she has rooms dedicated to publications, used clothing, furniture, NASCAR collectibles, bottles and old hardware.
While some antique dealers have joined the online marketplace, Fitzbag prefers the old-fashioned way of doing business: hanging the "Open" sign by the barn doors and letting people lose themselves inside.
"They love coming through the barn. It's old, 1880s, they find things that they weren't even looking for," said Fitzbag. "We have a little bit of everything – and if we don't, we can probably find it in the barn."
At the intersection of Routes 140 and 107 in Gilmanton is another antique shop known for its building. The Four Corners Brick House is a sprawling antique store in a renovated 10,000-square-foot circa 1810 house.
Anne Bartlett, one of the owners of the Four Corners Brick House, said the store, now in its eighth season, features at least 20 dealers. Like Fitzbag, Bartlett doesn't bother with trying to sell items through Ebay or other websites.
"There's no need, people want to come and see it, touch it, look at it," she said. One thing that sets the Four Corners Brick House apart from other stores, in Bartlett's mind, is the wide selection of antique furniture.
The antique market, said Bartlett, seems to go in cycles. The prices of furniture spiked about a quarter-century ago, she said, but have since become more reasonable. With antique prices competitive to what would be charged at a conventional furniture store, she argued that now is a good time to buy.
"This is all New England-made furniture, it's held up for 100 years," she said. "It's going to hold up for another hundred."
That's something that her middle-aged and older customers know. Bartlett's challenge is convincing the younger generation. She suspects that many younger adults only consider furniture from big-box retailers, with low price points but even lower build standards.
"Ultimately, that product isn't going to last," she said.
In Plymouth, a store has found success in offering college students an alternative to new. Boomerang Used Furniture & Funky Stuff, at 5 Main St., isn't necessarily an antique store, though some of its inventory would qualify for the distinction. Instead, Boomerang is a cooperative consignment shop with ownership shared by 17 dealers, who take turns operating the store.
Tish Hill, one of the owners, said Boomerang is now in its 7th year, and business, she said, "has been phenomenal."
Boomerang will post photos of its new items on its Facebook page, and Hill said she will check Ebay to see that their prices are fair, but thinks that the brick-and-mortar experience is one of the shop's factors for success.
"We offer something completely different," to online competitors, she said. "Owner operated, small store, personal service – used items, I think they have more character," she said, and so does Boomerang, with a near-constant flow of new items arriving.
Shoppers have responded, with everyone from college students looking to adorn their apartment, to dealers from other parts of the state or country filling up a box truck.
Not too long ago, Hill said, the idea of looking for bargains at resale shops was something that was only done by those who had no other option. That's not the case today, she said. Perhaps driven by environmental reasons, young shoppers who could afford a new item will proudly declare the deal that they got on their used things.
"It's definitely accepted. It's bragging rights, really," said Hill.
There are dozens of stores in the Lakes Region to look for your brag-worthy bargain. For a map and listing, see page 27.