Adrian Gilmour, owner of the Hungerford Antiques Arcade, summed up the joy on hearing the government announcement last year that “non-essential retail” would reopen post-pandemic from April 12.
“Our dealers have a spring in their step and a whole new purpose, queueing up to come into the arcade to spring-clean their units and completely restock”, he said.
In the following months live fairs and markets were reborn with dealers desperate for stock and face to face interaction with buyers. Good news returned from the spring onwards (forget Omicron for now) so here are just few of 2021’s many busy highlights in the fairs, markets and retail scene.
A chance meeting with the owner of the Kyre Park Estate in Worcestershire saw Essex dealer Tony Wittridge open the Kyre Park Antiques Barn in April. Wittridge now also runs regular antiques fairs at the site.
Vincent Page, owner of Antiques on High in Oxford and Sidmouth, added to the brand by opening an antiques centre in May in the tourist honeypot of Bowness-on- Windermere – earmarked by a pizza chain before he stepped in.
Also in May, Teresa Potts gave a sigh of happy relief when she finally opened Theatre Antiques, her shop in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on hold since the autumn of 2020.
As Corky Events, Jennifer Titmuss – who has run a popular monthly antiques and vintage market in St Albans – for the past three years – added two more markets to her portfolio: Chiswick in May plus a third in Cheltenham in November.
Well known on these pages is Jane Alexander of Dovehouse Fine Antiques Fairs in Dorking. Alexander started up a monthly outdoor vintage brocante in the town in May, selling plenty of French and Swedish pieces.
After just three weeks of trading in July at their newly opened showroom in Tunbridge Wells, Chrissie and John Masters of the Design Gallery in Edenbridge enjoyed brisk sales to new customers for their Art Deco furniture including a customer “who cancelled an order for modern furniture elsewhere when he fell in love with our Art Deco”.
Emma Townshend and Simon Carter pooled their arts-related skills and opened Wyke House, an art and antiques shop in July in Dursley in the Cotswolds, the first in the town, with Carter living above the former 1900s grocer’s shop as work continued on renovations.
Decoratives dealers Jenni and Kevin Hairsine, regulars at IACF fairs, source a lot of their stock from France. Last year they seized the initiative and launched their own intermediary service to guide and support the trade through the blizzard of Brexit customs regulations.
Emma and Oli Jones, who run the monthly Shrewsbury Fleamarket at the West Midlands Showground, launched not one but two new fairs: Worcester Racecourse in July and at the 17th century Weston House in Shropshire in October.
Dealers branching out into the auctions business included Mark Nelson-Griffiths, who launched The Rostrum in Holt, north Norfolk, in July with three other fine art auctioneers.
Jon White, owner of Old Bank Antiques in Royal Wootton Bassett, is opening RWB Auctions, next to the antiques centre, this autumn.
Donny Mann of Love Fairs organises events at two racecourse venues, Brighton and Lingfield. In August he did some lateral thinking with his antiques and vintage fair at Brighton Racecourse. As the site was still being used as a vaccination centre, he moved the fair to Lingfield Racecourse instead on the same day.
Keeley Rosendale of Discover Vintage turned her sights to the south of England for a new vintage home show in north London launched last September with advance bookings filled in record time. Rosendale already runs a vintage home show in Leeds and is starting a vintage fashion and textiles fair there this October. “There’s not been a fair of this kind for many years in Leeds and it’s been much missed," she said.
Sunbury Antiques returned to all the main indoor areas in September at Kempton Park Racecourse which was good news for organiser Edward Cruttenden. He said: “We were also very pleased to welcome more of our European dealers back to Kempton both as traders and buyers and slowly but surely those travelling from the US and Asia. A shot in the arm too for our antiques market at Sandown Park Racecourse is the news that Netflix are building their main UK hub at Shepperton Studios, close to the course.”
The Provincial Booksellers’ Fairs Association went for the online option early on with its monthly book fairs which kicked off in 2020 and continue, bringing to a wider public the thousands of titles offered by members.
The association re-started its live fairs in mid-summer. Brighton Racecourse was the venue in October for the PBFA’s Brighton Book Fair, the first book fair in the town for 20 years.
Pop-up shops included former PE teacher Oliver Kent who changed his life’s direction by becoming a full-time decoratives dealer. He opened a pop-up shop in Royal Arcade, Norwich.
Alan Old of So Last Century Fairs spied a new venue in south London, AMP Studios in busy Peckham, “a couple of railway arches and an outdoor pavilion”, he said, ideal for his pre-Christmas pop-up vintage market which ran on December 5.
My favourite quote of 2021? It came from dealer Natasha Kinnerley who had so missed the fairs and markets scene that she started dreaming about them. “I dreamt I was at the Corn Hall Market in Cirencester buying reliquaries and feather pictures… I’d give anything to hear some dismal dealers moaning about brown furniture again.”