Sarah Downs meets the last of the city’s trea­sure hunters

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Thirty years ago, Manukau Rd did not be­long to the hordes of bumpers, in­stead it hummed with an­tiques. From Green Lane to Green­woods Cor­ner, an en­clave of deal­ers con­gre­gated, all as dotty as their cus­tomers about old things. To­day only a hand­ful still re­main open.

“The late-80s was a pe­riod of ab­so­lute hys­te­ria over an­tiques,” says Mal­colm Grover, owner of Coun­try An­tiques. “Ev­ery­one was col­lect­ing some­thing. Royal Doul­ton or corkscrews, you name it.” Now the ma­nia has gone for any­thing peaking a cen­tury, he says.

In his el­e­gant clock shop, Lon­don An­tiques — all damask wall­pa­per and olive car­pet­ing — Dick Oord agrees. “Ev­ery­thing has changed. All of a sud­den an­tiques are in and then they’re not.” Fur­ther down, Yvonne Saun­ders re­flects on 45 years in her epony­mous store. “There used to be 21 deal­ers in this street but now there are six. That tells you what’s hap­pened.”

Perched on a grand arm­chair, Saun­ders ticks off an ex­haust­ing list: “Colo­nial, Vic­to­rian, English pine, coun­try, French …” Every 10 years strikes a change in style, she says. “Orig­i­nally we just had colo­nial fur­ni­ture, kauri, kerosene lamps and brass beds. Well, all that’s gone right out of vogue these days.” Her tightly packed store is now ac­cented with in­te­rior de­sign. Chan­de­liers, metal mir­rors and gar­den stat­ues keep buy­ers trick­ling in.

“Fash­ion is an aw­ful, fickle thing,” says Grover. “For a start, chif­foniers and ma­hogany were the rage but no one wants any­thing brown now.” Coun­try An­tiques opened in 1980 to a roar­ing de­mand for pine fur­ni­ture. “It just ex­ploded. I had three guys work­ing for me, strip­ping, sand­ing and pol­ish­ing. Every morn­ing there’d be peo­ple wait­ing and by the af­ter­noon we’d have to shoo them away.” But all those days are over, he says. “The traf­fic through the door has died.” His now eclec­tic as­sort­ment in­cludes mid-cen­tury and retro wares, which is in big­ger de­mand. “We’ve had to evolve into some­thing dif­fer­ent be­cause the mar­ket’s changed. I’d love to see a re­turn to real an­tiques, like Ge­or­gian fur­ni­ture, but right now there’s no in­ter­est.” It’s a gen­er­a­tional thing, he says. “Peo­ple don’t want to be do­ing what their par­ents are do­ing.”

“They’re not in­ter­ested in col­lect­ing,” says Oord, who is sur­rounded by old clocks. Some chime on the hour. Oth­ers tick rhyth­mi­cally. The Dutch­man opened 43 years ago, sell­ing con­tainer loads of stock to young buy­ers. “They

loved an­tiques but now, un­for­tu­nately, I’m still sell­ing to peo­ple in my age group.” It’s hard to spark new in­ter­est, he says. “To­day, peo­ple think ‘I’ve had that for three years, it’s time to throw it out.’ If you have a beau­ti­ful item and no­body wants it you can’t make them want it. If there is no de­mand, there is no de­mand.”

It’s a prob­lem for all small shops in Auck­land, he says. “Re­tail as we know it will dis­ap­pear. If you know what you want, you can get it on­line.” But the web only in­sults an­tiques, he says. “You can’t see the patina, the age, or the con­di­tion. With pho­to­shop­ping, these days you can make a bro­ken-down thing look ter­rific.”

Manukau Rd used to en­tice air­port-bound shop­pers, but that’s scarce now, says Lor­raine Read­ing, the youngest seller on the block. “Ex­po­sure to the right mar­ket is the key to sur­vival,” she says. “There will not be many an­tique stores in the fu­ture, only the best will last.”

Read­ing opened Art and In­dus­try 28 years ago, with a fond­ness for dec­o­ra­tive art. Be­sot­ted with botan­i­cal life as a young girl, her hunt for ex­otic ob­jects has never left. “It’s about recog­nis­ing things that are ex­quis­ite and want­ing to pass them on to peo­ple. It might con­nect to a per­son’s mem­ory or just the fact they want to dis­play some­thing that takes the hu­man spirit up.”

For Oord, it’s the old-fan­gled and inessen­tial. “I’m sell­ing items no­body needs. If you want to know what time it is, you buy a watch. You don’t need to spend $2000 on some­thing that also tells you the time.”

But you fall for things, he says, mar­vel­ling an 18th cen­tury red-mar­bled and gold clock.

“What hap­pens in this shop is peo­ple fall in love.”

When luck does strike, Saun­ders urges shop­pers to buy im­me­di­ately. “You don’t see the same thing twice. It’s lovely to have some­thing the whole world hasn’t got.” The trade is still as thrilling to her as it ever was.

“I never know from one day to the next who will of­fer me what. It could be trash or it could be trea­sure.”

To stick around all this time, takes ded­i­ca­tion, says Grover. “There have been hun­dreds who have tried to set them­selves up as an­tique deal­ers in Auck­land. Some of them last three, four, five years but most dis­ap­pear. You need to be com­mit­ted and not just in it for the money and you’ve got to know how to work.” The pen­sioner still puts in 80 hours a week. “I don’t con­sider it work, I’m happy in what I’m do­ing. But I’m not get­ting any younger. We will aban­don here and this will be­come apart­ments. The land is too valu­able to be sit­ting here as a dusty old shop.”

The an­tiques, how­ever, will never leave his sys­tem. “Old deal­ers never die, they just fade away.”

Mal­colm Grover says most an­tique stores have had to be­come more eclec­tic over the years to sur­vive.

Yvonne Saun­ders still works in her “dream shop” six days a week.

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