If Steve Jenkins has his way, then the Springfield Antique Show and Flea Market will be around long enough to be considered an antique itself.
An area mainstay for more than 35 years, the event is held at the Clark County fairgrounds many times throughout the year, with the larger antiques extravaganza and vintage marketplace held in May, July and September. The extravaganzas feature more vendors, larger pieces of furniture, high-end antiques, antique collectibles and art, food vendors and flower vendors.
The September extravaganza opens at 8 a.m. Friday. “The May show in Springfield was our biggest in years,” Steve said, “and we’re on target to surpass that with this show.” There will be more than 2,000 vendors, and between 20,000 and 40,000 shoppers are expected, depending on the weather.
Steve, the show’s owner, bought the show from local antiques dealer Bruce Knight in 1999. He now runs the business with his son John Jenkins, who handles much of the marketing and advertising.
The show has an international audience, with regular customers making the trek from Japan, Italy and Germany. “Most every state in the U.S. has been represented here, too, at one time or another. There is a woman from California who comes with her truck to nearly every show and a man from Texas who shows up with a semi,” Steve said.
The show has garnered its international reputation because of the quality merchandise and the percentage of items that are new to the marketplace, Steve said. The ease of shopping with so many vendors in one location is another important factor. “Can you imagine how long it would take you to travel to each of the individual dealer’s shops?” he said.
For commercial buyers and serious collectors, the show hosts line buying on Thursday, for a $40 early admission fee. Vendors will arrive and wait in line until 5 p.m. before they are permitted access to their spaces, so while they wait, many of them will open the back of their vehicles to buy and sell. Items move quickly, but it’s an opportunity to get a look at merchandise before the crowds set in, Steve said. Line buying admission includes admission to all other days of the extravaganza.
The Jenkins’ antique shows are a positive factor for the local economy. Chris Schutte, director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while it’s difficult to provide an exact figure, the extravaganzas easily bring in excess of $1 million into the local economy. “The international crowd requires lodging, food and shopping, all of which we have to offer. When the extravaganzas are in town, our hotels are booked. Unlike some events held at the fairgrounds, attendees tend not to camp on the grounds, but rather stay in our area hotels,” he said.
Even though traffic at this year’s events has been strong, the slow economy hit the antiques world just as it did most other businesses. The Jenkins family fought to remain strong. “It’s been a struggle with the economy over the past few years, but it’s coming back. We’ve out our heart and soul into this, and we’re sure it’s going to be great. We’ve worked hard to continue to grow with the times and remain in the cutting edge,” Steve said.
The Jenkins team remains directly involved, spending time at the shows, making note of what people like — and what they don’t. John said, “Ours is like any other business, so we’ve had to make changes to keep up. We’re out there every weekend at the shows, paying attention to the flow and customer needs.” John also runs six to eight concession stands at the Springfield show and has about 24 employees. “It’s a great way to understand another angle of the business,” he said.
One major addition to the extravaganzas this year is the Vintage Marketplace, a specialty area that features furniture, decorator items and repurposed items including jewelry. “The vendors here find uses for things that might not have ever been resold otherwise,” Steve said. The marketplace will be hosted by Sue Whitney, the author of the Junk Beautiful Series and the creator of JunkMarket Style. There will be speakers, hands-on workshops and displays to spur ideas.
On Friday morning, the first 2,500 cars will receive grab bags, which John estimated will likely be available only through late morning. The bags will include discount coupons, free food items, prizes and cash giveaways. There will be one $500 shopping spree, a $250 gift card to the Heart of Ohio antique mall and other special prizes randomly placed in the grab bags. “It’s kind of like an award for getting up early,” John said.
A concert by Chicago-based band BBI will being Saturday at 4 p.m. and continue until 8 p.m., even though the show closes at 5 p.m. The group plays upscale R&B and ’80s rock, John said, and concessions will remain open during the performance. “It’s a free concert at the end of the day for our customers,” he said.
Reaching younger people
As with any business, the antiques shows must please existing customers while growing the client base. “We’re trying to attract new customers,” John said, “and are using things like music and experiential shopping. It’s important for us to establish a younger audience, between 25 and 40.” The Vintage Marketplace has been a big draw for that audience.
John has set up Facebook pages for the antique shows and the Vintage Marketplace; he uses the demographics to help him figure out what he can do to continue growth. Using social media in general appeals to a younger crowd, and he has learned that the 25 to 40 crowd tends toward independent dealers for personal and home items.
He works to be forward-thinking about the business, even though he still keeps an eye on the past to find the best vendors and merchandise. “This is the right time for growth,” John said, “with all of the TV shows about the industry. Some are good and some are bad, but no matter what, that keeps people talking about it. We always try to capitalize on the good.”
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