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Selling Little Pieces of History

Kathy D’Amato sells old, new, and redone furniture, jewelry, art, and collectibles at D'Amato's Upscale Resale.

Selling vintage items on eBay since 2004, Kathy D'Amato acquired quite an inventory of unique pieces. She now sells antique, vintage, and new collectibles at since May, when the store opened. Also busy performing estate sales with her husband and continuing her work on eBay, selling and pricing collectibles has become an enveloping lifestyle for D'Amato. The store has three dealers who rent out space, each with their own personal style and design. The pieces range from costume jewelry to bureaus from the 1800s.   

How did you get into the business?

I actually started as an eBay seller six or seven years ago. I liquidate and still do liquidate Mary Kay inventory from women who have left the business and have excess inventory that they would like to get cash for. I pay them a dollar value, and then I sell it on eBay. Then I started looking into different product lines. I loved the vintage jewelry, and it sells really well on eBay. I started purchasing up lots of that. Then it just grew from there. It was furniture, glassware, collectables, and so we decided to open the store. 

What is the process for negotiating with dealers?

[We negotiate] when we have an opening for space, and there are times we have a waiting list. Right now we do have an opening for space, and I have a dealer contract where they come in and they see if the space is something that works for them. Important aspects are the location, does it fit in between all of our goals for the store, which is that we are trying to get across the ideas of recycle, reuse, repurpose, enjoy the old, unusual pieces that have been around for years. And stop just being a throwaway society. We try to get dealers in here who have the same philosophy. When it all clicks, we work out the dealer agreement, and they come in and commit for about four months to try it and see how the system is working, how the store is working for them. 

What is the standard or theme for collectables in the store?

We do not carry clothing unless it is vintage. As far as a standard, each dealer has their own particular taste. One dealer might have a beautiful bureau in mahogany, and he prefers to leave it in mahogany, and there is bound to be a buyer for that mahogany bureau. Another dealer might have the same bureau, but she has decided to refinish it in the new cottage chic design. As far as there being a standard, I guess the standard goes more towards our philosophy. We do have a dealer who has some old things, but she also carries a line of newer items, which are very popular. Her items sell very well. They are beautiful custom jewelry that is not vintage, but the school kids love them. The standard ranges. That one cabinet over there is mid-1800s, but it has been redone. It would have originally been that dark gold wood you see in that filing cabinet, but she chose to redo it in the cottage chic, which would fit in really well in a cape home or beachfront home. 

Could you explain the age ranges for collectables that are vintage or antique?

Depending on who you talk to who works in the business, they will tell you a different time period. I think it is generally accepted that anything over 100 years is antique. Anything between 50 to 100 years is considered vintage. However, I have seen the tides turning a bit especially with clothing and jewelry. People are starting to consider stuff made in 1980s vintage, and I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. I think it should be a bit older. 

How do you decide on pricing?

That is up to each dealer. They know what they paid for the product. They can sell it for so they’ll make a profit. There is no set standard. I cannot say that this business generally does 30 percent profit margin because that is not true. It is not true for any one of us. One person may only be making 10 percent, but I don’t know that. That is up to them. I price my items according to what I had to pay for it, plus a bit of a mark-up for myself because obviously I’m in the business to make money. I try to make deals when I can. If somebody comes in and thinks something is too high but they really love it, I try and work with them to make sure I still get a little bit, and they can have the piece they love. 

Can you explain the process for organizing collectables?

Obviously we try to make it aesthetically pleasing, however sometimes we tend to have a little too much. Each of our dealers set up their areas very nicely. They like to keep their like items together for the most part. Sometimes, I will rearrange pieces. If I have a table that I think goes great with a specific chair, even though they are two different dealers, I’ll kind of move them around to try and close the sale. Somebody will go, “Oh, that looks nice together.” 

What are the challenges of selling?

The challenges for the store have been getting the point across that we are across from , but nobody realizes that this building is in an “L” shape.  They pull up into the front of the store, and they never quite make it around the corner. The other challenge is trying to figure out the hours that people shop. We have tried various scenarios. And we’re still finding people saying, “Well, I came in, and you weren’t open.” It’s trying to get the word out that we need more feedback. We’re working on that now to try and correct as we learn and get the store open more hours. We’d also like to get into some community service type things. In September I’m going to contact the president of the Milford PTO [Parent-Teacher Organization], and hopefully see if they want to do some sort of joint fundraiser with us, and that will help spread the word that we are here. 

Do you have favorite items or styles that have come into the store?

I tend to favor my vintage jewelry. I think it is well made. If you go into a big store today and buy a piece of costume jewelry, it doesn’t have any real lasting value to it, and it probably won’t even last that long. Specific pieces from the 1920s, this looks as gorgeous. [D'Amato holds up a light blue necklace]. These are coming back in vogue again with the kids. Kids are coming in and buying stuff like this, when they get dressed up. They think it is funky. It is my vintage jewelry that is my favorite. I also like the cottage chic design that my other vendors do. 

What is the best part of the job?

The best part of the job is just being in the store. It is just so welcoming. We’re surrounded by such great history. 

What are the most popular items that sell?

I have several buyers that come in looking for the really antique pieces like that mahogany buffet over there. They like that dark wood. They like the ornate. Whenever I get those pieces in I have customers that keep coming back to see what is new. I also do really well with the shabby chic. People are buying the chairs that have been recovered.  They are buying bureaus. I had a gorgeous set of 1800s bureaus that had been redone in the white and the aqua. Those flew out the door. And the jewelry.  

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