HAMMONTON — Frank Mazza III insists that antiques sell themselves.
Not only are the sales mentality and the stress level much different than when Mazza sold new furniture at the longtime family business on 12th Street in Hammonton, but the customers are more relaxed as well.
“It’s a refreshing change of pace from furniture,” said Mazza, 52, of Hammonton, owner of the Antique Marketplace. “I’ve been in the furniture business since 1978. I still love people, which makes this fun because they don’t come in here with their guards up like they do with furniture. It’s different.”
The 15,000-square-foot building — built from used lumber by his family — had been a furniture store for nearly 40 years, he said.
That changed in 1999, when Mazza said trends in new furniture sales were shifting toward a “big box retailer” format.
“Things started drying up in the furniture business, so we saw a niche for people wanting to buy used furniture, antiques and collectibles,” he said.
He had stayed in the furniture business at the time with a store in Egg Harbor Township, and converted the large Hammonton building into an antiques co-op in 1999, he said.
The antiques store had been open for nearly a decade before it was closed in 2008, when Mazza said he rented the space to a furniture store company that never opened there.
So after emptying out the building, he brought the antiques store back two years later.
The building — which once housed scores of new sofas, ottomans, dining room tables and other items — now sells a motley assortment of used furniture and antiques.
These include lead soldiers, a Harper’s Weekly from 1865, a “Jim Florio for governor” campaign button, Mark McGuire baseball cards from when he played with the Oakland A’s, a Jennings Chief nickel slot machine, Amish Dutch cookbooks and a Tarzan-themed pachinko machine.
The antiques co-op currently has 20 dealers who rent space for $1.50 per square foot, he said. The dealers also work in the store several days a month, with the length of time dependent on the size of their rented space, Mazza said.
Paul Hammer, a dealer from Medford, Burlington County, was working in the store on a recent weekday. He said collecting antiques and selling them is mostly a hobby for him.
“It starts off with you liking to buy, and after a while you have too much,” he said. “This is a hobby made in heaven. … We are the ultimate recyclers.”
Mazza is expanding the Antiques Marketplace, which currently occupies the first floor of the two-story building. Mazza is renovating the second floor, adding more higher-end antiques geared to interior designers and home remodelers. He expects it to be ready by late summer.
“That will probably take a year to catch on. Our occupancy cost is low, we have a lot of great dealers who all get along, so we have all the time in the world,” he said.
Mazza said he noticed used furniture faring well during the down economy, as shoppers looked for high-quality pieces that were selling for nearly one-third the price of new furniture.
He said even Internet auction site eBay has lost some its luster among local shoppers browsing antiques stores rather than online.
“They want to touch the stuff, feel the stuff, fall in love with it,” he said. “They’re coming back to antiques stores.”
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