TreeHouse Antiques Center

TreeHouse Antiques Center co-owner M.C. Susan DeMaio offers works from Gail Pierson Gallery of Cape May at the Lower Township shop.

Staff photo by Dale Gerhard

LOWER TOWNSHIP — M.C. Susan DeMaio’s Lower Township antiques store is the peanut butter to the jelly of Gail Pierson’s Cape May art gallery.

Or, since this is Cape May, perhaps foie gras to Sauternes.

DeMaio’s two-story TreeHouse Antiques Center includes a satellite art gallery where Pierson’s artists display their work. This strategy has drawn more customers to the store in a collaboration that is producing results for both businesswomen.

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“The antiques market has expanded in Cape May,” said Pierson, who owns Gail Pierson Gallery on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May. “We have a very similar clientele. They’re looking for quality. We’re playing on the synergy between antiques and art.”

She calls the art displays at TreeHouse her “off-campus gallery.” It sits in a converted 100-year-old home with an attached carriage house off Seashore Road.

DeMaio, a retired lawyer who lives in West Cape May, bought the antiques store with her husband, Wayne Stewart, in 2006. The couple said they fell in love with Cape May after vacationing here when she was in-house counsel for Oceana Publications, based in New York.

The 3,000-square-foot store sells antiques provided by 30 regional dealers across the Mid-Atlantic.

“They’re all very knowledgeable about their area of expertise,” she said.

The store has dealers who specialize in fine china, furniture and Depression glass, among others.

There’s the children’s fainting couch next to a sturdily built loveseat with original wood dating to the late 1800s.

DeMaio, who has a marketing background, developed a business and marketing plan with the help of Cape May County tourism officials.

“I disseminated rack cards to all the B&Bs in town. My customers know if they have a specific request, they can email me,” she said.

The store sells cheeky TreeHouse Antiques T-shirts with the slogan, “I like them old and worth a lot of money.”

DeMaio collects antique furniture.

“I’ve always been interested in and had an affinity for furniture. My father taught me a lot about it,” DeMaio said.

Reproductions of antique furniture are common but are easy enough to spot for someone with experience, she said.

Upstairs there are colorful glass bottles featuring the etchings of famous Cape May hotels.

Pierson is serious about art, but the gallery she opened five years ago is hardly stuffy. One recent exhibit — Food, Glorious Food — highlighted artists’ gustatory preferences.

Pierson in August displayed the work of Cape May Point artist Carol King Hood from her first visit to Paris.

“Carol told me she was going to Paris. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a show based on your experience there?’” Pierson said. “It came out even better than I expected.”

Pierson also curates a collection of work from local wood and metal artisans.

“We have a wealth of local talent to draw on,” DeMaio said.

The two women met when Pierson went to DeMaio’s store to do some Christmas shopping. DeMaio asked her to leave her large handbag at the counter.

“Too often people will turn around and accidentally knock over $500 in statuary,” DeMaio said.

Pierson also worked in publishing, which helped them forge a friendship that led to the business partnership.

The store takes items on consignment. Invariably, there is an interesting story attached to the antique, she said.

“It’s amazing what you can learn from your customers,” DeMaio said.

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