ATLANTIC CITY - Could Atlantique City - for years billed as the largest indoor antiques and collectibles show in North America - become a thing of the past?
This much is certain: Next year's show is canceled.
Event organizer F+W Media Inc. is informing dealers that the two-day show in Atlantic City will not return in March and is refunding deposits to those who have already signed up for booths.
F+W Media President David Blansfield did not return telephone calls Tuesday to his New York office seeking comment.
In a news release posted last month on the official Atlantique City Web site, Blansfield mentioned the "current economic environment" for having an effect on the show.
"We believe it's in our best interest not to produce the Atlantique City event next year," Blansfield said.
The company said it will instead launch an antiques and collectibles show next summer in Wisconsin.
There was no mention whether Atlantique City, which has been a fixture in the resort since 1986, might return at a future date to its home at the Atlantic City Convention Center. F+M Media also did not say whether the rights to the show might be sold.
But officials at the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, or ACCVA, which operates the Convention Center, said they're under the impression the show has been dissolved for good.
"The show's owner, which produces a number of shows on a variety of topics and products, is looking at developing other, nonantiques shows to bring to Atlantic City in the future," Gary Musich, vice president of convention development, said in a statement. "In the meantime, the ACCVA Convention Development department is reviewing other opportunities with other companies to develop a new antiques show."
The decision to axe Atlantique City didn't shock some dealers, nor the show's founder, Norman Schaut.
The show in more recent years has suffered from falling attendance and fewer vendors. While the show once brought in an estimated 100,000 people annually in the 1990s, organizers said last year that it has attracted a far smaller 10,000 to 15,000 visitors.
Other events at the Convention Center can corral more people, such as February's Atlantic City International Power Boat Show, with an attendance of 39,000.
And while Atlantique City used to be held biannually - in March and October - even that was cut back this year to only March.
"I was very sad to see my baby go," said Schaut, of Ocean City. "I thought when the October show was canceled, at least there's March."
Schaut decided to sell the show in 2001 to a subsidiary of F+W Media. The show's cancellation, he said, comes at a time when antiquing events have had to compete with the likes of eBay and a declining interest among the younger generation.
He also said the show in Atlantic City suffered from not enough advertising and a "corporate mentality" by its organizers.
"Atlantique City was nothing more than an enormous mom-and-pop business that involved an inordinate amount of travel on my part establishing personal relationships with dealers," Schaut said. "But this corporate mentality and corporate way of doing things tends to be far more impersonal, and it really doesn't lend itself to operating a mom-and-pop business."
Schaut added that he would not be interested in reviving Atlantique City.
"I don't think it's revivable," he said. "It would be a major job for someone to build that up."
Husband-and-wife Rich Chapman and Ilona Shafer were planning on getting another booth at next year's show to sell their celebrity memorabilia and other items. The couple, who own two shops in Ocean City, count on the event to help supplement their income outside of the summer season. They've earned about $6,000 at the shows, Chapman said.
He said he was unhappy with the prices dealers had to pay to have a booth at the show, which could amount to $1,500, including paying for electricity.
"I think (the organizers) clung to high rent," Chapman said. "And they never successfully recruited new dealers with enticements, like starting them at half the price."
For collectors, the show was a chance to find old toys and dolls, sports collectibles and Miss America memorabilia. But Glenn Corbett, of Waldwick, Bergen County, said he stopped going to the shows four years ago.
"It was a fun show to go to," said Corbett, who liked to search for firefighting-related collectibles. "Then they tried to turn it into some kind of high-end furniture and jewelry show, where all the small stuff and all the collectibles were pushed to the side. It really lost its flavor."
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