A generation ago, when my in-laws were searching for antiques for their Uptown home, they began their antiquing adventure the New Orleans way: lunch at Galatoire’s followed by a shop-to-shop trek along Royal Street. Each visit included long conversations with the merchants, a walk-through of the stores and note-taking. A piece of jewelry or furniture could take at least a year to find.
My, how times have changed.
Today’s shoppers, it seems, begin with the click of a mouse. And many New Orleans antique dealers are finding that their Old World businesses are arming themselves with 21st-century sensibilities. Whether searching for a piece that is across the globe or across town, the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool in selling or purchasing antiques.
High-end buyers often begin their searches with a visit to 1stdibs.com, the world’s most-searched antique site, which features some of New Orleans’ finest stores, such as Lucullus, Mac MAISON ltd., Bremermann Designs and others. Stores
are carefully selected for the site, and items are given instant worldwide recognition.
Gerrie Bremermann says she sells as many as three major pieces a month on 1stdibs.com, and the site brings visitors to her store and its Web site from all over the world. Michael Carbine, owner of Mac MAISON ltd., uses 1stdibs.com as his only Internet source.
“The Internet is very educational for the consumer,” says Bill Rau, owner of M.S. Rau Antiques on Royal Street. “He or she can learn the history of a piece, see photos, read the dimensions and compare prices. If the customer wants to talk to the store or make a personal visit, she can do so with a base of knowledge.” Rau’s Web site is considered one of the most extensive and sophisticated sites in the business and accounts for “millions of dollars in sales each year,” he says.
Many New Orleans antique dealers consider their sites as introductions to the city and local stores and not tools for big sales. Some stores, such as Keil’s Antiques on Royal Street, intentionally do not post prices on their sites. “We use our site to tell our repeat customers and potential visitors about our store and about new items we have, but we still consider antique-buying a personal business,” says Keil’s Peter Moss. “We don’t want to lose that one-on-one aspect.”
Likewise, Patrick Dunne of Lucullus on Chartres Street finds the Internet an excellent tool for decorators and potential buyers but prefers to sell antiques in person. “Buying an antique is not about instant gratification.
It’s about becoming a connoisseur,” says Dunne, whose Web site does not sell antiques directly from the site but does post history, photos and prices. A follow-up phone call or a visit to the store often results in a sale, he adds.
When Magazine Street’s Orient Expressed launched its Web site, it was one of the first antique stores in the city to do so. Today the site sells antique porcelain, Santos figures and Asian artifacts in strong numbers. “It’s all about using modern technology to open your antiques to other markets,” says Orient Expressed’s Dabney Jacob.
Aux Belles Choses owner Bettye Barrios limits her Internet sales to smaller items that are easy to pack and mail, such as linens and small antique French kitchen accessories. “We have found that our Web site picks up the slack during slow times,” Barrios says. “It’s also a convenience for the shopper who doesn’t have time to trek to 25 stores, and they never have to leave the comfort of home!”
Whether selling an antique Tiffany window over the Internet, as M.S. Rau did recently, or a small cachepot as Aux Belles Choses often does, all dealers feel that having their own Web sites or using 1stdibs.com was one more tool to help grow their businesses. “The Internet is here, and if a business doesn’t use it, it is left out,” says Orient Expressed’s Bee Fitzpatrick. “Tourism is down, the housing market is down, and we’re facing a recession. Merchants have to be out there. We cannot expect the buyer to just walk in the door. An Internet presence is that little carrot in front of the consumer –– worldwide.”
Although searching the Internet isn’t as much fun as lunch at Galatoire’s followed by a sojourn to Royal and Magazine streets, it does provide a fast-paced and exciting antiquing adventure for the customer who simply… clicks a mouse.
Web sites worth watching
First Dibs, www.1stdibs.com
Mac MAISON ltd., www.macmaisonltd.1stdibs.com
Magazine Street, www.magazinestreet.com
M.S. Rau, www.rauantiques.com
Bremermann Designs, www.bremermanndesigns.com
Keil’s Antiques, www.keilsantiques.com
Aux Belles Choses, www.abcneworleans.com
Orient Expressed, www.orientexpressed.com