Since it opened in 1978, Apple Annie’s Vintage Clothing & Jim MacDonald’s Antiques in Depot Town has seen a lot of change. The neighborhood has changed, the business of dealing in collectible items has changed and the store itself has even morphed and expanded from its original layout.
What has remained unchanged for the past 35 years are owners Jim MacDonald and Lynn Radtke and their love of what they do.
While it seems as though vintage clothing and antique stores are a dime a dozen these days, that was not always the case.
“Back when we started, we were the only game in town,” Radtke said. “There were other antique shops but they mostly sold furniture. Not many people knew what vintage was back then.”
Once upon a time, Depot Town was not the hip and friendly neighborhood it is today. Tough biker gangs ruled the streets and bars like Aubree’s (Formerly known as the Alibi) catered to a rowdier crowd than their current customer base. But amid the ruckus, the antique store stood where you will still find it today, at 29 E. Cross St.
While attending Eastern Michigan University and working part-time at the Alibi, a young Lynn Radtke pursued her passion in vintage fashion and jewelry. After purchasing an Ann Arbor estate full of 1940s apparel, she partnered with MacDonald to sell her collectibles.
“I told him I would work for him and he gave me a little corner in his store with a jewelry stand and a clothing rack, and that was our business plan,” Radtke said.
In its early days, the store was about half the size it is today and specialized in antique furniture, particularly pieces fashioned from cherry, walnut and mission oak.
Although you will see furniture in there today, the selection of vintage clothing in the shop has outgrown its original rack and is now featured throughout the expanded store. Other collectibles from war memorabilia to old cowboy boot spurs fill glass showcases while shelves of antique books line the walls.
In addition to the expansion of the storefront and the transformation of the Depot Town neighborhood into a cleaner, safer area, the vintage and antique store had to adapt to a big change in the industry: online antique dealing.
“Before, it was a lot harder for people to find the items they wanted to collect, and they would pay a lot more for them,” Radtke said. “But now all it takes is the push of a button and they can get it shipped from anywhere.”
The Internet has also put pressure on antique dealers to stock collectibles in pristine condition.
“In real estate, it’s location, location, location, but in collectibles it’s condition, condition, condition,” Radtke said.
Since it’s a lot easier for buyers to get what they want, they can also be more selective with the items they buy.
“Why would someone pay $500 or $600 for a Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar with a chip in it, when they can pay $650 and get one that’s in perfect condition?” Radtke said.
In order to compete with online antique dealing, Radtke and MacDonald try to purchase a lot of their goods from estate sales in the area.
“We like to get stuff that’s local history,” Radtke said. “And when you buy from an estate, you’re getting fresh merchandise. If you buy from another dealer, it’s been around for a while.”
As with any retail industry, antique dealers also have to keep up on current trends. As far as vintage clothing trends, a lot of the features from past decades’ fashion trends repeat themselves. A lot of these features seem to cycle about every 30 years—pegged pants were trendy in the 1950s, for example, and made a comeback in the 1980s.
“Something that will sell very quickly today might not have sold at all 10 years ago,” Radtke said.
Knowing what’s currently selling tells antique dealers what style items to buy for resale and what to stay away from.
“We don’t want to buy something that is going to sit in the store for eight or nine months,” she said.
Part of the fun is being able to predict what’s going to be popular next.
“You can look in magazines and see certain styles start to show up,” Radtke said. “But sometimes you just know what’s coming up next.”
Radtke’s and MacDonald’s expertise in this aspect of antique dealing is no doubt a huge contributor to the longevity of their business.
Since trends are always cycling and new items are always entering the market, the selection of goods for sale at Apple Annie’s & Jim MacDonald’s is different every time you go.
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