Tucson’s burgeoning antiques community will be on display when PBS stalwart “Antiques Roadshow” visits the Old Pueblo for the third time Saturday.
The antiques, vintage and repurposing market has grown considerably since the last time the Boston-based program visited in 2006. The 20th season of the show begins its six-city summer tour at the Tucson Convention Center.
“It’s very exciting to get to Tucson and see what’s in store,” executive producer Marsha Bemko said.
More than 10,000 ticket requests were submitted for roughly 3,000 spots, according to Bemko. Each person will have a chance to show off two “treasures.” They will film approximately 100 segments, which will be enough for three episodes.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm even though it’s our third time there,” she said.
Episodes of the show will be aired on Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Arizona Public Media starting in January. The order the shows will be aired has not yet been determined.
Tucson was home to one of the more memorable Antiques Roadshow moments. In 2001, a mid-19th century Navajo Ute blanket, believed to have been once owned by Kit Carson, was appraised for $350,000 to $500,000. The blanket is now owned by a museum in Detroit.
“My superstition is if there’s no direct flights from Boston, we see more memorable things,” Bemko said. “There are no direct flights from Boston” to Tucson.
While Bemko said the figurative shrinking of the world has turned the antiques market into a melting pot, the show will no doubt be an opportunity to show off a community that is filled with antique, collectible, nostalgic and vintage items.
There will be roughly 100 appraisers working at the Tucson Convention Center on Saturday, including Tucson native James Supp, the owner of Coronado Trading Company.
Supp, who was born in Tucson, began buying antiques when he was working as a leather and blacksmith. The crafts required antique tools, so he began buying them out of necessity.
“I realized more and more that I really enjoyed them,” he said. “One thing led to another, and I ended up in the career I wanted to have when I retired.”
He made his Antiques Roadshow debut filling in for a sick appraiser in Phoenix in 2009. He has made appearances in nearly every city since, moving from the tools to the collectibles table.
Among the items he has appraised are a bowl and tray from the Hindenburg and high school sketches done by Michael Jackson.
Supp, who has worked in more than 20 cities, said the Tucson antiques and vintage community is very active. He believes this is because the community is older, more Earth-conscious and transitory.
The items found in the city can be classified as mid-century eclectic, he said.
“Tucson was a very small town up until the ’50s and ’60s,” Supp said. “So there aren’t a lot of old West antiques out here like you’d expect. … But you do get a lot of collectors from back East that retire and move all their stuff out here, too, so there are always surprises.”
Supp said the desert climate also has an effect on what items can be preserved in Tucson. For instance, furniture and plastics don’t survive the dry weather well, but paper goods and textiles do.
Supp said he believes people buy vintage or antique items because they’re nostalgic but also because there is a mystery in the craft.
“Most collectors don’t go out looking to collect,” he said. “Most items just sneak up on them. … The nice thing about antiques is that almost every item you see is unique. Everything has its own pluses and minuses.”
People are interested in antiques not only because of nostalgia but also because of price, quality and uniqueness, said Myra Rees, co-owner of 22nd Street Antique Mall, located at 5302 E. 22nd St.
Rees, who co-owns the dealer mall with her husband, Paul, passes an Old Western beer growler, button jewelry and a wooden duck telephone, among other items, on the way to her office every morning.
“There’s something for everybody,” she said. “We have what you want and things you didn’t know you want.”
She even might pass the occasional paranormal visitor as the place has been classified as “haunted” by a number of clairvoyant groups.
“We think it comes in with the furnishings,” Rees said. “We’ve had a lot of reports of transparent people.”
The business, which opened in 2005, offers booths and showcases for rent to local dealers and artists. They have roughly 200 tenants a month, she said.
“All the dealers have to do is come in, put their stuff in, price it and make it keep looking nice,” Rees said, noting they are encouraged to not be there every day. “That’s the only responsibility.”
“It’s an up-and-down business, so you can’t take it seriously,” said Mark Paffenroth, who has been a dealer with his wife, Sue, for most of the past decade.
The most popular items are mid-century modern, but Colonial and Victorian era pieces do really well, Rees said. Smaller items, such as jewelry or knick-knacks, sell the fastest.
“The goal is to have items of interest to the community that will bring the community in to purchase,” she said. “We are fulfilling those goals in a big way.”
The business grew slowly before taking off during the recession. It has “been gangbusters for the past five or six years,” according to Rees.
Customers range from young people setting up dorm rooms or apartments to snowbirds furnishing their second homes. Another big market is the dealer and repurposing market.
“There are a lot of people that buy a piece of furniture and turn it into something else,” manager Sarah Scheerens said, noting one person turned a dresser into a TV.
The average sale is between $25 and $50, but it depends on the day and the person, she said.
“I love to shop here,” Rees said. “I’m one of our best customers.”
The Big Heap co-owner Mickey Meulenbeek had never worked with the Tucson antiques community before bringing her vintage, antique and handmade design festival to Southern Arizona for the first time in April.
But after roughly 5,000 people showed up in the event’s two days, she left impressed.
“We thought they just really nailed it,” she said. “Now we know for next year that Tucson is really interested in this.”
Meulenbeek, along with fellow owner, Lori Cowherd, hosted the festival at Old Tucson on April 11 and 12. For the past four years, they have run annual festivals in Scottsdale and Flagstaff as an offshoot of Thieves Market, their flea market in Cave Creek that is entering its seventh season.
There were roughly 50 vendors at the event, with some coming from as far as California, Nevada and New Mexico, Meulenbeek said.
“We had so many people that were waiting in line standing to get in that some of them were out of inventory by 10:30 a.m. in the morning on Saturday,” she said.
Meulenbeek said that Tucson had more mid-century items compared to the rest of Arizona. The most unique piece she saw was an antique wooden seat from an old ferris wheel.
“Every time our vendors come, they bring things that I can’t even believe — they’re just crazy and unbelievable and unusual and unique,” she said.
Meulenbeek believes that people buy antiques because it allows them to have a little slice of history.
“To have these little antique pieces that are well curated and well picked by these great pickers, that’s something in your home that’s really going to take it to another level,” she said. “It gives it a soul.”
The Big Heap hopes to make Tucson an annual stop, Meulenbeek said.
The Tucson community is full of art, and artists tend to like the “funkier, cooler, older stuff,” said Logan Lichtenhan, owner of ShiftCycle.
As a result, the Tucsonan said the local antique and vintage community is decently strong, but is nowhere near the level of San Francisco, New York or Portland, Oregon.
“You’re not going to get top dollar for stuff in this community,” he said. “But there’s definitely a fair amount of interest. … I think it could certainly use more support.”
Lichtenhan grew up using tools and building things. After working in a bicycle shop, he began buying, refurbishing and selling vintage bicycles and parts, even turning some pieces into jewelry.
After quitting personal training, he has been selling antiques, vintage and repurposed items under the ShiftCycle name during the past year. He generally sells at local swaps and fairs but also on Craigslist and his Facebook page (Facebook.com/ShiftCycle
“I just kind of started to accrue some products and resell them and refurbish some of them,” he said, noting he would eventually like to expand the business to have an auction-type website and a storefront.
Lichtenhan said repurposing allows him to combine two of his passions — history and recycling.
“One of the biggest things I like about this business is that it’s a way you can get a history lesson and make some money and not be contributing to landfills and the reduction of our resources,” he said.
Lichtenhan teaches himself how to repurpose and build items, mostly relying on YouTube for instructional videos.
“I don’t like the idea of cutting down more trees or making more plastics or doing all that sort of stuff when there’s a lot of perfectly good and better made items that are still out there,” he said. “They might just need a little bit of love and a little bit of attention to get them back to being fully functional.”
Lichtenhan said while sellers tend to be older, his clientele is a “mixed bag.” While he mainly sells to merchandisers, his customers range from everything from college kids to professionals to older collectors.
He said you can walk away with something cool and unique from an art fair with between $150 and $200.
“You can get into it with really not much money and find something that you can’t find in a store and probably won’t find again,” he said.
The most unique item he said he has made was a lamp with a shade made of a topographic map.
“In this business you try not to get too attached to things,” he said “You kind of love them for the time you have them and then hope that you give it to someone else who’s going to appreciate it.”