by Joshua Jerome
Located in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Barre, the Wheelock Office Building built in 1871 houses the Barre Antique Center. Created last year, the antique store was the brain child of Pierre Couture and was created to leverage the existing antique dealers in downtown Barre. Couture, owner of the Lodge at Millstone Hill in Barre, has been collecting antiques for nearly 40 years and while getting to know many of the antique dealers throughout Vermont, the creation of an “antique collaborative” was looked at as a way to keep administrative costs down and offer antique shoppers a unique experience.
Downtown Barre was the ideal location for the antique collaborative as it already had three traditional antique stores, incuding Last Time Around Antiques and Grakles. In addition, Exile on Main Street has thousands of collectable vinyl records, Coins & Hobbies has their unique toys and Goodfellows Fine Jewelers has their estate collection and upcoming Americana and fine art collection. Identifying the ideal location to house this collaborative was thoughtful and deliberate. After consideration of several locations, the city-owned Wheelock Office Building was chosen and renovations began forthwith. To this author, the idea of an antique collaborative made a lot of sense and it was clear there was much interest with antique dealers in the area. Through The Barre Partnership, a grant application was completed for submission to the United States Deptartment of Agriculture Rural Development office for a Rural Business Development Grant and was awarded in the fall of 2015.
I asked Couture if it was difficult to get enough antique dealers on board with the concept. “No, it wasn’t. The collaborative concept allows for a critical mass of dealers to show their various collections at reduced cost.” When the Barre Antique Center opened last June, there were around 15 antique dealers that had agreed to lease space. Currently, there are over 30 antique dealers who lease space and an additional 30 that have merchandise on consignment. In fact, the collaborative effort has garnered so much support that a second location, The Old Town Hall Antique Center, opened this past November. It is fitting that The Old Town Hall building is their second location as it was built originally in 1860 and acted as the town enlistment center during the Civil War.
The collaborative effort seeks to grow into Vermont’s Antique Center, strategically located on the I89 corridor between two other antique areas, Burlington/Essex Junction and Quechee. Couture has worked on building relationships with dealers from both locations which has led to a mutual understanding of the importance of the I89 “buy-way” as Couture calls it. And their first joint marketing initiative is coming up with their Super Bowl Antiques Weekend starting on Friday, February 5 through Sunday, February 7. The Five Corners Antique Mall along with the Barre Antique Center, Old Town Hall Antique Center, Last Time Around Antiques and Grakles will each offer light refreshments and food to shoppers and those who can make it to all five locations during the weekend can have their name entered in a raffle for various gift certificates.
The great thing about Barre’s antique stores is that they have a diverse selection of antiques from “smalls,” vinyl records, maritime, furniture and everything in between. Couture says that people who are interested in antiques look for opportunities where they can visit several locations in one area, making Barre the perfect location to drive consumer traffic towards. And keeping merchandise fresh and appealing to a broad demographic is important. This seems to be working. As a case in point, I’ve witnessed teenagers all the way to people in their 80s who shop at the Barre Antique Center. Teenagers and elders are at different stages in their lives. They have different tastes. But according to Couture, the one thing that unites both teens and elders is that no matter who Couture is talking to, “they always associate something of interest to their grandparents.”
And remember even today’s grandparents had grandparents which is what makes antiques constantly interesting.
The writer is executive director of The Barre Partnership.