Good eye by Peggy Whiteneck

Discover Vintage America - JUNE 2017

Taking the road less traveled

I travel by car three times a year for the Fenton Art Glass Collectors of America.
Although I'm in my second three-year term as a member of the Board, I'm only now beginning to get comfortable enough with the journey from my Vermont home to the FAGCA office in West Virginia to explore some of the better antique malls not too far off the beaten path of my normal route. On my recent trip in late April, I discovered Ontario Mall An- tiques in Farmington, NY, conveniently located just about a quarter mile or so off Exit 44 on the I-90 (New York Thruway).

Its website, claims not only that it is New York's largest antique mall but also that it only deals in "authentic antiques/collectibles - not flea market/garage sale items or crafts." Such claims are often made but seldom proven, and I was interested to see whether this mall could pull it off. I was pleasantly im-pressed the next morning to find that Ontario Antiques Mall is, indeed, truth in advertising!

The place really is huge; it took me two hours to go through it despite the fact that I move fast and focused on my own interests. The building itself was once an entire shopping plaza with smaller connecting shops that have now become the various "great halls" of this mall.

I must confess that while, as a shopper, I was delighted in the size of the place, I couldn't help wondering what it would be like to be a dealer among hundreds competing for consumer attention. The displays were diverse enough though that attracting eyeballs may not have been much of a problem at all for individual dealers. In an "off" season, I saw only one or two empty display cases in the whole place. It seemed to me this mall has much to teach us about success in the trade - a place that big doesn't stay fully rented by accident.

Ranging from the "wow, that's reasonable" to the "oh, my God," there were price points for every budget in the diverse inventory of Ontario Mall Antiques. I found this Lladro ballerina titled "Death of a Swan," model #4855, and bought it for resale. It was the only Lladro in its particular display case and was offered at a 50% discount on an original asking price of $125.

The rest of the Lladro I saw, in this and two other malls I visited on my way home, was considerably more pricey in what appears to be something of a secondary market recovery after the slump that followed 9/11. At an acquisition price of just over 60 bucks for a very popular ballerina themed collectible, it'll bring me a pretty penny at an affordable price that will still be very attractive to a collector.

I saw few items at all of what I would call "flea market merchandise" among all those hundreds of displays (and it could be I was just unable to appreciate the collector value of those items). It was obvious that some active and consistent owner/manager quality vetting was going on at Ontario Mall Antiques, and it was immensely gratifying to me, for whom poor vetting is such a pet peeve, to see successful quality control in such an immense venue.

The inventory was not all 20th century collectibles, either. As just one example, I saw some stunning examples of Mount Washington Burmese glass. The oldest item to catch my eye was a round iron cooking pot whose vintage was presented as "post Medieval" and looked every bit the part!

Something else that struck me about this mall was how clean it was. Its glass case fronts were so clean that it looked like there was no window there at all, an impression heightened by the fact that a few cases were unlocked and open. After rapping my knuckles a couple of times, I learned I couldn't just reflexively reach out and touch cased items. Actually, it was great to be able to see the merchandise so clearly, unmediated by fingerprints and smudges.
Staff is friendly, helpful, and familiar with case locations.

The cases are all numbered, and the mall provides a supply of pencils and scrap paper at the entrance so that customers can write down the case numbers for items they want to see close up for when a staff member with a key becomes available.

The only quibble at all I have about this mall is the inadequate item information (one word per item!) on the sales receipt. Otherwise, my experience at Ontario Mall Antiques was so overwhelmingly positive that it will be on my "gotta stop" list for the few times a year that I travel through that area.

Peggy Whiteneck is a writer, collector (and now dealer) living in East Randolph, VT. If you would like to suggest a subject that she can address in her column, email her at