Buying High, Selling Fast: Hamden Antiques’ Dealer Finds Way To Survive Recession

By Kazim Alam

HAMDEN, Conn. — A recession in the economy is far worse for businesses dealing in luxury goods. As people have less disposable income, they cut their spending on things that they can do without. They stick to their old TV sets and out-of-fashion cars while waiting for the economy to recover.

But what about antiques and rare paintings?

Don Barese -- photo by the writer

Don Barese, 62, has been running an antiques’ business in Connecticut for three decades now. Before becoming an antiques’ dealer, Barese worked for a medical company as a salesman.

He developed interest in antiques and paintings by visiting art galleries in New York City, and left corporate America for his passion.

Speaking of his knowledge and trustworthiness, antiques’ collector Adriane, who is a long-time customer of Barese, said, “To somebody like Don who has multiple categories in business, you really have to have confidence that he knows about what he’s saying, and that he’s representing it to you correctly.”

Better Business Bureau, a.k.a. BBB, which offers consumers business reviews, has ranked Don Barese Fine Arts & Antique as an “A category” company.

In the Q&A below, Barese talks about how he has managed to keep his local antiques’ business thriving amid the recent economic recession.

Do paintings and antiques sell less during an economic slump?

The recession has affected the antiques’ business in two dramatic ways. There is not as much expendable income for the middle class and the upper-middle class to buy antiques and old paintings which are, in many cases, expensive.

But the other side of the coin is that there are many more people who are selling things, as they need money.

So the supply is more than the demand?

The buying is easier and the selling is harder, which is the opposite of what goes on in a good market.

However, there are exceptions. As antiques become more expensive, there are still people with plenty of money who are willing to pay more than things are worth to get them.

Why?

Because these collectables are hedges against inflation. They will put the money into items that have appreciating value because the currency in the world is in fear.

How have you survived the recession, especially when your business is so unpredictable?

I am very diversified. I don’t stick to one category. When I am not buying paintings I may be buying gold or silver.

I can sell a truckload of junk at bad times to keep a cash flow. That’s how I have run my business for over 30 years.

Barese' gallery -- phot courtesy: donbaresefineart.com

A quick search on Google shows many of your competitors operate in one category of fine art with a single line of business. But you don’t, right?

My competition may be selling only retail. Whereas, I do a lot of wholesale, taking smaller profits, buying high and selling fast. I have been a survivor for a long time because of those different things that I do.

Although BBB rates yours as an “A category” company, it is not “BBB-accredited.” Why?

BBB is expensive. I spend thousands on advertising. I spend thousands on insurance. I can’t do everything. Maybe sometime in the future, I will (get it BBB-registered).

How do you advertise?

I run ads on radio, I run ads on television, I run ads in art magazines, I run ads on Google. I run ads in many, many newspapers to have people call me, to sell me their estate items.

Don Barese Antiques on Whitney Ave. -- photo by the writer.

What do you mean by “estate items”?

Their family items, the things that were collected by their parents, or their grandparents, or their great-grandparents.

Is the passion for antiques and old paintings limited to the rich only?

Unlike the common perception, a nice old painting could be as cheap as $50. There are my customers who don’t have a lot of money. But they are very passionate collectors. They say, “I am not interested in buying a named artist, I am interested in having a look to hang up.”

There is nothing wrong with that.

Do you buy antiques on impulse?

The major issue facing the antiques’ business all over the world is poor cash flow. The reason for a low inventory turnover is that the antiques’ dealers cannot order their supplies. They have to go out and get them whenever they are on offer.

There is an expression popular among antiques’ dealers: “Live poor, die rich.” They tend to collect too much inventory. Their profits depend on how quickly they move their inventory. Therefore, a good part of the business is dealer-to-dealer trade.

So you keep buying antiques in the hope that they may sell one day?

We (antiques’ dealer) buy and sell among ourselves to keep our cash flow. You really have to be able to sell a lot of different categories. When one thing is not good, you hope the other thing is.

Don Barese tells us how he confirms if a painting is real or not. Listen to the clip. Listen:

The writer is a Pakistani student at Quinnipiac University’s journalism department. Twitter: @kazimalam | Email: kazimalam@gmail.com

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