“On the Road” Important Safety Tips for Antique Dealers of any Age
By: Veteran Dealer Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell – The Halloween Queen
Dealers who head off to set up at antique shows or shops often find themselves the target of individuals and groups of criminals. Crime is at an all time high at antique shows and shops and it is imperative that we become more aware of this situation and be prepared to protect ourselves and our property. It’s essential to use precautions and common sense and be aware of what is happening in the antique world and the world around us to protect ourselves. Robbing an antique dealer is much easier than robbing a bank and once your inventory or collection emerges on the internet it is easy to “fence” and almost impossible to repossess. In the more than four decades I have been making my living as a dealer and as a collector whose life is part and parcel of their collection, I have had so many things stolen over the years that if I had them back I would be a wealthy woman.
Be vigilant. Watch your stock and the people who are in your booth or shop, and watch what they are doing. Chatting with a customer or fellow dealer is lovely but while you are doing so make sure you are still watching the booth. Distraction is one of the favorite strategies used by thieves and it is often the people you least suspect that will be doing the deed. We have seen ministers, doctors, lawyers, a judge, teachers, an army major, and women with baby carriages caught for stealing. A person’s profession or age has nothing to do with their ethics or honesty.
“If they don’t want it taken they shouldn’t put it out on the table,” is the mentality thieves use to justify their deeds. This is the same theory used by people who break things and walk away as if nothing had happened. One dealer calls it “theft by breakage.” The concept that one should not display an item is inconceivable as then there would not be shows or shops and no one would have anything to see, buy or sell. They consider it like leaving your money on the table. If it is there, than they have the right to take it. Your stock is your currency. You paid for it. When an item is stolen you are out of pocket not only in addition to what you might have made in profit but what you paid for the item initially. Whether it is a one dollar item or a thousand dollar item it is yours and no one has the right to take it from you.
Dealers who take off to “shop the show” or chat with friends are not watching their booths. Thieves are not stupid. They are clever and well versed in who is vulnerable and what is easily saleable. For example, dealers who walks out of her booth and then “loses” a valuable doll gets angry with those adjacent to her booth for not watching while she went to a three hour lunch is beyond unreasonable. Other dealers have their own booths to watch and customers to deal with, but all dealers, when they can, should be watching the environment around them. We certainly do, and we let any dealer near us know that. If there are certain people who are well known or acting suspiciously we also let the other dealers know in addition to the show security or the promoter. In Kentucky, two beautifully quaffed octogenarians chatted with me about a silver spoon while the third sister stole a Wedgwood vase. The dealer beside me later told me that they were well known cultured ladies and everyone knew about them and their stealing habit. Everyone did not know since this was our first show there. Promoters and dealers should always alert new dealers of known procurers
Exhibitors, especially those who are on their own, should tell the dealers around them, should they need to step out of their booth, and they will gladly keep an eye on their merchandise. This doesn’t mean they are responsible but it does mean you have at least some level of protection. If your neighboring exhibitor doesn’t know you are out of your booth they may not be so vigilant in watching what is going on in it. Live by the Golden Rule.
It is difficult to image a worse stay at a hotel than our recent one in Columbus, Ohio. Having done over 3,000 shows in my 40 plus years in the antique business, I have stayed in some of the best and some of the worst motels from Maine to Florida and as far as California and the UK. Often it is not the hotel or motel itself but the staff, or an incident that occurs which make my stay memorable. Antique dealers will often discuss a show and the problems they have had at hotels and restaurants as this exchange of information helps others avoid certain places and pitfalls. A motel can be perfectly fine and within a few months change hands and deteriorate into a place you wouldn’t want to stay in. Always maintain your security precautions.
This actually happened to me, and I share my story with you in the hope that you will learn from my experience. Someone tried to break into my hotel room just before 2 a.m. in the morning and although they are cognizant of the fact I was up and aware they were trying to do so. The perpetrator was adamant about getting into my room. What his intent was is not important. What is important is that he knew it was not his room and I was not anyone who he knew. My first reaction is that someone has made a mistake and has arrived at the wrong door. This was not the case. For 20 minutes I told him to go away and was prepared to defend my own with two large kitchen knives I had used for preparing dinner. I usually select motels as they have full kitchens. By cooking in I insure we have great meals with food for the next day at the show. It also, cuts down on expenses and time. For $50, the average price with tip for a meal for two, we can eat incredible food made by Chef Me. So now you know why there were large knives and cooking utensils in our room. But I digress… I called down to the office, not 911 like I should have done. The man at the front desk, after I told him someone was trying to break into my room, asked me if I was a member of the maintenance crew! Can you believe it!? I then called the police but I was worried about the thief breaking the handle of the door and getting in and I wanted to be in the right position to use my knives in the most effective way. I’m great in an emergency but I just wanted to get rid of him. I lied saying that the police were on their way. He hesitated and then thankfully he left. At this point my husband awoke and wanted to know what all the noise was about. He is well known for being able to sleep anywhere at any time. We waited and waited for the security to arrive and never saw anyone. In the morning I confronted the man at the desk and he was very condescending and lied to me that the police came and saw nothing.
That night after a show in Columbus, Ohio I spoke with a man who resided in the room next to mine and he said friends of his in another building had been bothered a few days before. We found out our incident had never been logged in nor had an officer been called. After speaking with the other guests, we phoned the police. The officer was furious that the police had not been informed. He asked for details and descriptions, etc. He told me what I already knew-that I should have called 911 immediately and not the office. He was absolutely correct. It was after this that I realized I had been totally on my own with no back up on the way and I realized the seriousness of the situation and how speaking with the man at the front desk and not calling 911 could have jeopardized our lives. Years ago you could not call 911 directly from your room and had to go through the desk so modern technology has helped.
For those of you that carry a gun, make sure you know the state laws as you could have problems. Handguns must be registered and you should know how to use them properly. Guns are not toys and real life is not TV fiction. Do everything you must to avoid a confrontation or problem if it is at all possible. Hindsight and regrets are no good after something is fait accompli.
On another less serious but very annoying note, fleas and bedbugs have become a major problem because those little varmints like to travel, sending you on your way itching and often infesting your stock and your home. These parasites do not want to be parted from your delectable self. Carry Raid with you and spray at the first sign of infinitesimal intruders in your room if you are unable to leave immediately. Last year at Brimfield I had spiders in my room and some of them can leave nasty welts or make you ill. That can of spray may not smell attractive but it beats moving rooms after midnight or having huge painful lumps on your body. As I say, “the only good bug is a dead bug.” In a room, insects are the weeds amongst the roses. I have never heard anyone say or complain that they had butterflies or dragonflies in their room.
Often we complain about the insensitivity and the “logic” of Police procedures and traffic stops when travelling out of state. Let us remember that these men and women are working hard for our safety and the safety of others. If you are pulled over, keep your cool and do not say anything to offend the officer. Losing your cool and your temper won’t do you any good when you are in custody and are forced to leave your vehicle full of antiques that may be parked out of your site. You can end up like a dealer friend of mine…returning to an empty vehicle.
Whether you are a woman exhibitor, traveling on your own, or a handicapped person with a particular vulnerability, there are so many things you can do to protect yourself and family possessions. I suggest everyone think about their security and check out the web site below which is as scary as an earthquake and can be as devastating but very informative.
Protect yourself as best you can and if you see me at a show, or stop at my shop or museum please tell me your story of what happened to you, how you handled it, and how it affects all of us in the antique world. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I really care and want to know so I may share your experiences with others. Information is ammunition and it is better to prevent a situation than have to deal with it.
Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell – ™ The Halloween Queen
Castle Halloween Museum
1595 Boggs Run Rd.
Benwood, (Wheeling) WV 26031-1050