Saturday, November 8, 2003

Everything is new at former antiques mall

By Karen Andrew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] James and Pat Lyons of Norwood (right) browse the Chelsea Floral stall at the new Cincinnati Antiques Collective. At left are Jean and Art McFaddin of Mount Washington.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
COLUMBIA TUSCULUM - Inside the rambling brown-and-yellow landmark once known as Bill Ferguson's Antique Mall, a transformation is under way.

Workers are putting up walls and lighting, and dealers are unpacking crates of furniture and collectibles. Antique oriental rugs cover most of the unfinished concrete floor. The absence of ceiling panels, removed to make way for stamped tin, exposes metal framing and wires. Booths, meanwhile, are filling up with early American antiques, Nixon-era furnishings, even Andy Warhol art.

Move over, Bill Ferguson's. Make way for the Cincinnati Antiques Collective.

The exterior still sports a ramshackle appearance. But there are other changes afoot - changes that Ferguson's former dealers say came at their expense.

"This is phase one of a six-phase plan with a lot of partners," said Robert Dean, co-owner of the collective. "Something happens every week, but because it's such a huge project, it's taking a long time. We're interior designers, not rehabbers, and we face issues that we didn't anticipate."

Dean and co-owner Paige Krantz exude optimism. The pair have big plans for the labyrinthine, multilevel compound on Kellogg Avenue just east of Delta.

Customers will "still be able to find some of the great values, but also a great variation," Krantz said. In addition to antiques, newer furniture and art, the center will offer high-end consignments and estates.

"We're trying to get in every aspect. They can bring their design questions, and assistants will be available to help. There's a large amount of antiques, silk flowers, French antiques, books, architectural finds, wholesale rugs, an art gallery. There's a design firm, Dean and Castellini."

Added Dean: "We will have everything for the home and family."

The collective already conducts estate furniture sales on weekends. Coming up next year: A culinary school in June and a gourmet coffee shop in the fall.

Many of Ferguson's former dealers thought they had a place in the new arrangement, only to leave under contentious circumstances.

Jeannie Peters, owner of Mount Washington Antiques, said the new owners introduced themselves in the spring. They "said there would be no increase in the rent until all dealers were making money and were back on their feet," she said.

"But almost immediately ... we went in one day (in May), and this lady said we were all supposed to pick up an envelope in the office," she said. "A letter in my envelope told me my rent would quadruple and go into effect in July."

Peters said the tenants were told they had to pay a security deposit equal to a month's rent at the higher rate - and $20 a month for advertising.

Ruth Slavin rented several booths with her husband for almost 23 years and sold antique clothing and vintage jewelry. She left, too.

""They needed more money. They didn't encourage us to stay," said Slavin. "I loved it because I could sell my own merchandise and give the customer the benefit of the doubt. But they doubled our rent, and we couldn't afford to stay."

Krantz tells it differently. She said she and Dean asked for feedback and requested that the dealers "clean up their spaces, dress them up a little, be more customer-friendly." The new owners, she said, footed the entire bill for the security system and new restrooms. They also paid for an advertising blitz.

"The place wasn't doing any business," Krantz said. "We told people what we wanted to do and it would take three months. A lot of those people didn't see what our vision was."

Krantz said they never asked anyone to leave.

"The former vendors hadn't had a rent increase in 10 years and never had to put down a security deposit," Krantz added. "We wanted it to be an antique mall, not a flea market."

Scott Carlo, owner of Tusculum Books, has sold used and antique books at the Ferguson's mall for eight years. He's staying.

"This change was long overdue," Carlo said. "This is a nice mix of the old and new."

David Clifford, a customer from Mount Lookout, said he immediately found Ferguson's when he moved to Cincinnati in 1987.

"It was perceived as a flea market, not an antique mall. People were coming here to look for a good deal," he said. "Lately, the place has been getting stale."

Clifford added that the on-premise restaurant, Kellogg Country House, is the reason he still visited Ferguson's.

"The restaurant was the only thing bringing in people," Krantz said. "And we wouldn't change the restaurant for anything."

Having been a designer for 15 years and a winner of national awards, Dean was a successful business owner in San Francisco. He returned to the Cincinnati area to be closer to family. Krantz has been a designer for eight years, taught interior design at Antonelli College in Cincinnati.

Both designers worked at Krantz's mother's business, Design Consortium in O'Bryonville, before owning Cincinnati Antiques in Covington. Krantz said they wanted to expand. When they learned Ferguson's was for sale, they jumped at the chance to buy it.

""There's room to grow, and it's a great location," Krantz said.

The antique mall was the first in town. "It was ahead of its time - a sleeping giant," said Gary Neltner, owner of an antique, collectibles and architectural pieces business from the Ferguson's era.

Neltner is sticking with the new venture. He is moving some of his antiques and nicer collectibles into the main building from a detached room and outdoor shelter.

"We think there's something here for everybody," Krantz said. "It's a great location."


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