Brian Cegelski is not a whiner. The old joke about the difference between a whining antiques dealer and a whining dog (the dog eventually stops) doesn’t apply to him. With his wife, Julie, the 39-year-old Cegelski owns Revivals Antiques on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights. He has been there for over eight years and considers himself part of the resurgence that began in the late 1980s, after many of the original “Antique Row” people from the 1960s had passed away.
“You’ll find that almost everyone on Adams now is younger, trying to bring the stores back to life. It’s a younger community, overall, buying the older homes. And in the antiques stores, they can find the chandeliers, the doors, and the stained glass that give these homes their character.”
Antique Row is well-placed, at the hub of two historical destinations, Kensington and Mission Hills, and two others. North Park and South Park, that are starting to gentrify. “This furniture comes out of those homes and goes right back into them.”
Chippendale is not the younger person’s style of choice. They’re buying “retro,” says Cegelski. It dates mostly from the 1950s. “We also call it ‘mid-century.’ It’s less expensive than older pieces. You can buy a retro dining room set for $250 to $350. You can furnish an entire house here, and people do.”
Nostalgia drives some sales to the younger crowd. “They’re looking back at what Mom and Dad had and having memories of their grandparents. You walk into Ikea and say, ‘Particle board — it’s functional,’ but there’s no family behind it. These things are warm to the touch. They have history.” He elaborates: it could be a chest of drawers from the 1860s. Maybe the family was originally from Philadelphia. Maybe this was the last piece the La Jolla matriarch had in her collection. “There’s always one piece that keeps getting passed down, and then it gets bought by some other family."
The older people who come into the store, by contrast, are topped up in the furniture department. “Mostly they have everything they need, but they’ll still fill in gaps with decorative pieces — individual painted dishes; a nice tapestry or runner. They’re in their 60s through 80s,” the age of the Walkabout crowd that tours the area on Fridays.
Younger people, who generally don’t sit down to full dinners, skip the china and crystal, Cegelski has observed. “They’ve got their TV trays, or else they don’t want to wash dishes and they’re eating off of paper. Leave It To Beaver is gone, so to speak. With the movie Titanic, there was a resurrection among younger people of dinner-party hosting and formality. It takes a movement like that to spark it. It was short-lived, but something else will come along. It goes in cycles.” Another wave of nostalgic yearnings could come with a war, he believes.
Once or twice a year, Cegelski sells off smaller items at the monthly Collector’s Nite in Mission Valley. Most dealers who set up tables there don’t have shops, he says. As for the buyers: “They’re mainly dealers, too, coming down from Los Angeles to buy from specific people. Dealers come in from other areas, to see what others have picked up. What we recognize in the business is that San Diego is the place to buy, because prices are so reasonable. Take it up to L.A., and double it. Take it to San Francisco, and triple it.”
In this economy, people naturally shop around, says Cegelski, “Whereas before they would say, ‘Oh, this is just what I’m looking for.’ No hesitation. ‘Let’s get it into the car.’ You’ve got to be smarter on your prices; smarter on your buying. I’m working on financing too. It’s like layaway. We didn’t want to do it, but we’ve got to keep up with the big boys.”
Cegelski acknowledges that some people are buying nothing these days. “I think many younger people are just getting by. It’s not where we were two years ago, when you could still live in a place like P.B. fairly cheaply with two or three roommates. Now they don’t have that spending money. They might even have crates in those houses. I have to admit. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. It’s like, ‘How can you live like that?’ No furniture. Maybe they’ve just, like, found something in an alley and thrown a Mexican blanket over it, and that’s their sofa, and everyone’s kicking back on it. And they’ve got a crate for a coffee table and a crate for a side table, and that’s it. With your vehicle and insurance for it, you can see a paycheck go down the drain really fast.”