At the Antique and Artisan Center in Stamford, Connecticut, browsing is a serious proposition. Three years ago, proprietors Mark Candido and Ron Scinto had the foresight to transform a 22,000-square-foot space in industrial downtown Stamford into a high-quality, multiple-dealer emporium similar to those one might find at a weekend-long antiques fair. Martha stops in whenever she's in the neighborhood to peruse the wares of 48 dealers, all of whom have been handpicked from a region that extends from northern New England all the way south to Florida, and as far west as Pennsylvania.
Mark and Ron chose Stamford because it is halfway between New York and Boston. Their hunch proved well-founded. The center attracts between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors each week. Forty percent of the center's business comes from Manhattan.
On any given day, the center, which was once a turn-of-the-century icehouse as well as a distribution center and manufacturing site, holds between 50,000 and 60,000 individual pieces from periods spanning a range of 300 years. Mark and Ron stress that the center is a repository for antiques, rather than collectibles. An antique can be roughly defined as a piece that is 100 years old or older, and a collectible is anything that comes in a series of two or more. Despite the overwhelmingly large number of objects their center shelters, Mark and Ron know their ever-changing inventory inside out, and they are constantly on the watch for the specific wants of their regular customers.
The diverse selection housed in the center includes sterling, crystal, books, numerous makes and periods of furniture (Stickley, Biedermier, Eastlake, Empire, Arts and Crafts, as well as French and Italian eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painted furniture), American china, turn-of-the-century pottery, Handel glass, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings, samplers in original frames -- and this is just the beginning of the list. What's unique about the center is that objects are displayed in specially designed settings that look like rooms.
The Antique and Artisan Center provides dealers with a space, advertising, and staff for a flat rental fee, which, for a month, runs a quarter of the price a dealer would have to spend for a concession at a three-day antiques fair. Unlike other antiques centers, the Antique and Artisan Center takes no commission.
Martha joins Ron and Mark on a stroll through the booths, revisiting several prize pieces she has had her eye on for quite some time. She inspects a collection of flower frogs, which the dealer has acquired over a period of 30 years, and she resists the temptation, once again, to purchase a beautiful late-nineteenth-century gilded mirror, carved by John Williams, a famous New York carver.