Few businesses will likely emerge unchanged in any way once we are past the current pandemic. Ironically, my appraisal business may one of them, but not so for the broader antiques and fine art fields. Here are some of the trends and aftermaths I suspect we will see.
First, it is likely that at least some of the galleries and antiques stores simply will not return. The galleries are in an especially challenging environment since much of the selling typically happens at crowded openings or when the gallery staff can closely interact with one or more customers. This will not be the norm for a while and whether a gallery can survive the ensuing sales drought will depend on several factors, including overhead and the ability to increase successful online strategies.
Antiques stores may fare better although that industry has been struggling for some time due in large measure to the steady erosion of interest in the merchandise among younger demographic cohorts. Again, moving to a stronger online presence or perhaps going completely virtual will likely be a necessary path for survival in many cases. I have actually been seeing this for some time on the Etsy platform, where it is clear antiques vendors have joined in sizable numbers.
Speaking of Etsy, it has been interesting to watch how Etsy has quickly evolved from being a site for handmade crafts to encompassing an enormous variety of goods, including fossils and minerals, antiques, fine art, and pretty much anything that might be reasonably included in the handmade/vintage categories. For the record, I have a store there myself (MadCatEmporium) where I market my own local finds and have found the platform to be a delight to use.
Another industry that is absolutely being altered by the pandemic is the auction business. In-person previews are largely out now and it is hard to say when they might some day be revived. Again, it is the online strategy that is now being maximized and which will likely benefit most those auction houses with the capital to stand out in already crowed arena. The downside to this trend though is that the major houses are presently shedding staff and ordering significant pay cuts for those that remain employed. Look for leaner staffing with an emphasis on good photography and condition reports.
For those of us who have fond memories of hunting nice pieces at antiques stores or mingling at art openings, the changes being wrought will make us ever more wistful. But, these changes have also long been in the making. To my mind, the current pandemic is simply imposing an unwelcome Darwinism on those business who were already struggling most and also forcing survival changes at an accelerated pace. One thing for sure though is that the retail and auction landscape will be quite different when the pandemic has passed.
Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association, the Sarasota County Aging Network (president), and is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP) Equivalent