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Antique collectives gone in Solana Beach, Ocean Beach, Carlsbad, Ramona, almost gone in Normal Heights

People want Pyrex now – and Hawaiian shirts

“Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four others were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”
“Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four others were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”

Antique stores and malls are fast becoming antiques themselves. The famed “Antique Row” along Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, which at its peak numbered 25 stores — and gave the stalwart Antique Row Cafe its name — is down to just one. Dave McPheeters, who has operated the surviving Zac’s Attic for 16 years, says the only reason he’s been able to stay in business is because he owns the building.

“When we first opened our store in Oceanside six and a half years ago, my No. 1 goal was to have something for everybody,” says says Brandon Vega, one of the owners of Sea Hive Marketplace.

The Solana Beach Antique Mall, a fixture on Cedros Avenue for 35 years, shut its doors for good in March 2017. Housed in a cavernous former roller rink, the mall — home to about 100 vendors — had once been a favorite of Hollywood celebrities such as Jack Klugman and Tom Conway, who’d stop by during the Del Mar horse-racing season.

A little more than a year later, in April 2018, the huge 18,000-square-foot Ocean Beach Antique Mall, located on Newport Avenue just west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, closed down for good, to be replaced by a Target Express. More than 100 vendors were displaced. A petition to boycott the incoming Target drew some 1500 signatures; the Ocean Beach Town Council approved a resolution blasting the Target store’s opening as “disregarding the clear and expressed will of the community.” It happened anyway.

The following year, in August 2019, saw the shuttering of the Carlsbad Arts and Antique Mall, with its 22,000 square feet of space spread across two buildings, one a vintage military Quonset hut. The site is now the home of State Street Commons, anchored by a high-end seafood restaurant, Nick’s on State. Other tenants include Pure Tacos, Pacific Sotheby’s, Lofty Coffee, and Warner Bros. Games.

The latest high-profile casualty: The Ramona Antique Fair, a Main Street landmark for more than a quarter century, which closed in August 2022. The 7000-square-foot building had housed 35 dealers. A month before the mall closed, co-owner Laura Lyman told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “We talked to everybody and told our dealers. They understand the situation. The sales they were making were not enough to pay the rent. They’re not doing good and the business is not doing good.”

McPheeters, the sole remaining antique dealer on Adams Avenue, says the antique shops and malls were done in by a variety of factors, from the internet to gentrification. Online auction sites like eBay and later Etsy, took away “the thrill of the hunt,” and much of brick-and-mortar antique dealers’ foot traffic, he says. “It used to be that collectors would visit antiques store and hunt for items they were looking for. It would take them years to build a collection. Now, if you decide you want to put together a collection of, say, Fiestaware, you go online and you can buy as many items as you want in a day or two.”

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Sponsored

Internet auction sites also shattered values, he says. “Before eBay, there would be book values. People would publish books with information on pricing and values for other books, based on auction and estate sale results and condition. And those values would be pretty much standard around the country. But when eBay came around, if someone had something with a book value of $100 and threw it up on eBay and it sold for $10, then that was the new norm — no one was going to pay $100 anymore.”

Brandon Vega, one of the owners of the county’s three Sea Hive malls, agrees. “It used to be people who wanted to go antique shopping went on road trips — there used to be antique malls all along the highways, Now, they do the same thing on the Internet, and say, ‘Oh, someone on eBay or Etsy has it cheaper.’ That drove down prices, and the problem was that the person who ran an antique store in San Diego was paying three times as much rent as the person who lived in Ohio, in a small town.”

That brings up something that dealers maintain is an even bigger culprit than eBay: soaring property values and the gentrification of older San Diego neighborhoods such as Normal Heights, City Heights, North Park, and Golden Hill. “People around here used to pay a dollar or two dollars a square foot,” McPheeters says. “But then Starbucks comes in and says, ‘I want the corner,’ and offers to pay anywhere from $5 to $10 a square foot. And for that amount of money, a landlord will evict someone who’s been there 20 years. And once it starts, landlords get greedy. They evict tenants, and even if they have to wait six months, someone eventually comes in who can pay that amount of money. Antique dealers can’t.”

Lynne Petersen, who for the last 25 years has operated Old Ivy Antiques on State Street in the heart of Carlsbad’s “village,” agrees. State Street used to be known as North County’s answer to Antique Row on Adams Avenue in San Diego, but no longer. “When I got here, everybody was older — they had been doing it for years, and I was the youngest shop owner on the street. There were no restaurants except for Garcia’s. One by one, they retired, and their shops changed into restaurants, boutiques, salons, spas, and the well-rounded shopping experience you have today. It used to be a three-block trail of antiques; now, it’s everything.” Indeed — as far back as August 2004, nearly 20 years ago, the Union-Tribune ran an article on the impending closure of three downtown Carlsbad Village antique stores, noting that it was “leaving some owners to think that shopping for antiques in a string of stores along the quaint downtown streets may soon be a thing of the past.” The managers of two of the shops told the newspaper that sales were down, “and they barely have enough income to pay the rent.” One told the paper she was shutting down because her landlord doubled the rent; another cited the emergence of eBay. “It’s like a funeral around here every day,” observed one of the departing antique-store operators.

  • * * *

And yet, there’s a flip side to all of this: while antique stores and malls throughout San Diego County that have been in business for 20 or 30 years are shutting down, the handful of survivors are reimagining their spaces and vowing to carry on. And what’s even more surprising is that new antique malls are opening up.

McPheeters, the sole surviving antique store owner on what was once Antique Row, calls himself a “generalist,” but maintains it’s important to get ahead of trends. “People used to collect Depression-era glassware; today, they want Pyrex,” he says. “There are fads in antiques, and to be successful, I have to know a little about a lot. I sell glassware, pottery, silver, some jewelry, and small pieces of furniture, but the thing that keeps the lights on is Hawaiian shirts — I have over 1500.”

The former site of the Carlsbad Arts and Antique Mall is now the home of State Street Commons, anchored by a high-end seafood restaurant, Nick’s on State

Even so, McPheeters says, his store is open only on Saturdays and Sundays; during the week, he pursues other sources of income, from running estate sales and performing appraisals to giving presentations at church groups and retirement homes. “It’s like my own Antiques Road Show,” he says. “I have members of the audience brings things in, and I can tell them what they’re worth.” What he doesn’t do is eBay. Between higher fees and the pressure to offer free shipping, he says, “eBay has evolved to the point where I don’t do anything online.” He also doesn’t like the fact that eBay automatically charges a sales tax based on an average of all 50 states, and that average is higher than the local sales tax rate here in San Diego County.

Lynne Petersen, of Old Ivy Antiques in Carlsbad, says that over the years, “I changed — I had to change — with what was going on. I’ve been trying to evolve, so as the town has been growing, with lots of condos going up and people moving into the village, I really began focusing on the coastal vibe. So my shop is primarily coastal home décor with vintage finds. That’s how I describe it.” Instead of carrying only antiques, Old Ivy devotes the front of its store to a wide assortment of décor, from art to baubles, as well as furniture. In the back is the “mall” section of the store, with 20 dealers carrying a curated collection of antiques and other vintage merchandise. “I mix old and new, because people don’t collect like they used to,” Petersen says. “People used to say they collected things like Hummel figurines; they don’t do that kind of collecting anymore. It’s more to decorate their house, or complete a little grouping. So it’s not the same type of shop anymore.” Her dealers “each have a specialty. One is a jewelry dealer; someone else does crystal and china, more formal antiques. Another does garden, and then I have someone who just does funky garage sale finds. It’s great for people who are walking through town, hoping to discover something.”

Mixing old and new also is the secret to Sea Hive’s success, says Brandon Vega, one of the owners of what is now a three-store (soon to be four-store) operation. The original Sea Hive Marketplace opened in Oceanside in 2017, in a 13,000-square-foot building on South Coast Highway, with upwards of 100 vendors. A second, larger location opened in June 2021 in Liberty Station on Point Loma, and is known as Sea Hive Station, with about 140 dealers occupying 23,000 square feet of floor space. A 6000-square-foot Sea Hive Mini opened last February in the Westfield Mission Valley mall, and plans now call for a fourth location, in La Jolla, to be open July 1. Like the original Oceanside location, the La Jolla Sea Hive will have 13,000 square feet of floor space.

About the only thing Sea Hive has in common with the traditional antique malls of the past is that the business model involves a cluster of independent dealers who pay rent for booths of varying sizes. Some carry only new merchandise, from paintings to bath soaps and scrubs, from candles to decorative dog collars. Others carry a wide assortment of vintage goods with strong pop culture leanings, such as vinyl records or Hawaiian shirts from the ’60s and ’70s. In Oceanside, there’s a display with old cameras; the owner also offers film-developing services. “When we first opened our store in Oceanside six and a half years ago, my No. 1 goal was to have something for everybody,” says the 38-year-old Vega, who at the time already had nearly a decade of experience selling mid-century modern design at his own store, Atomic Bazaar. “No matter whether you are a grandma and grandpa walking in with your grandkids, a young couple, or a single 18-year-old, you should find something to pique your interest.”

Vega’s hunch was that for an antique dealer or mall to survive, it had to adapt to a new kind of customer. “At the time, I had been a modern dealer for about nine years, and you could already see the antique shops closing, because that generation was aging out of the market. A lot of the true collector generation had died, or was at the point where they already had a house full of real antiques — and by ‘real antiques,’ I mean pre-Victorian, early Americana, things that are over 100 years old. Another reason I think collecting has slowed down is that you can now go to IKEA and furnish an entire place for under $5000. It used to be that a young couple would save for a while to spend a large amount of money on a quality piece of furniture, and they’d plan to have it for the rest of their life. This generation moves around a lot, and when it’s time to move they call up their friends and say, ‘Come and get what you want before I donate and/or throw these things away — I’m going to buy new stuff.’ It’s fast furniture, as opposed to quality.”

The newest antique mall in town is the appropriately named Antique Mall in Encinitas, which opened in April in a shopping center on the southeast corner of El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard.

Today, Vega maintains, the buzz word is not so much “antique” as “vintage.” “Everyone wants stuff they wanted as kids, and as they get more established and have expendable income, that’s what they buy,” Vega says. “It’s the reason sales prices of classic cars from the 1950s are down, while prices of 1970s VW buses are going crazy. And from a trend standpoint, people want a mix. You open up an interiors magazine like Elle Décor or even Architectural Digest and most of what you see [in a given spread] is not one certain style, but a very eclectic mix. You might have a 200-year-old tansu chest from Japan with a 1970s Vladimir Kagan-designed sofa right next to it. In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a strong shift from grandma’s antiques to mid-century modern, bohemian, and all sorts of eclectic styles.”

When he opened Sea Hive Marketplace in Oceanside in 2017, Vega says, he purposely hand-picked and curated an eclectic mix of dealers. Vendors also were — and still are — required to come in at least once a week to clean and restock their booths. “The old antique mall is not sustainable,” he says. “People change, styles change. And as things change, a mall with 120 different types of things will be able to sustain itself much better. So in my model, malls change with the times. When Sea Hive Marketplace opened, we had five or six traditional antique dealers; now, there are literally zero. I have many vendors of vintage goods, and we are always careful to avoid duplication and too much of the same. My two newest stores are hyper-curated, and vendors have been by invitation only, while most of our stores have a waitlist to be a vendor. We select awesome people who sell awesome things, and we protect exclusives. Back to the vendor in my Oceanside store who sells old cameras and films and even develops film the old-fashioned way: he can barely keep up with the demand and amount of film he’s developing. He is so busy, it’s crazy. But if we had three guys doing vintage film, there likely wouldn’t be enough business to be worthwhile. Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four different vendors who were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”

Vega says his stores also reflect the neighborhoods they’re in. “Every one of them, within 12 months, takes on the shape of the neighborhood,” he says. “And the vendors who do really well are the ones who a lot of times are part of that neighborhood — they know what styles are in, what the kids are wearing. Our Oceanside location, for example, reflects the funky, vibrant culture of Oceanside, which is still an old-style California beach town with a heavy military presence. Point Loma has less vintage and might be a bit more refined. And now, the La Jolla location we’re opening is more upscale, but also very much fun, hip and vibrant because we are a stone’s throw from UCSD and the student population.”

Innovation doesn’t change the fact that “brick-and-mortar retail across the board is failing,” grants Vega, “but I believe we will continue to thrive because we cast a wide-enough net in our quest to have something stimulating for every one of our shoppers.” And, he adds, “we are the epitome of shopping small and supporting the local community.” On top of that, Sea Hive aggressively harnesses social media. “That’s the beauty of the whole thing. We select the best vendors San Diego has to offer, and all of our vendors are invested alongside us by sharing with their social media platform. Those customers then discover more than a hundred other small and local businesses when they come in to shop, so our marketing reach is exponential, built-in, and it is a direct connection to our local community — not just random folks.”

The newest antique mall in town is the appropriately named Antique Mall in Encinitas, which opened in April in a shopping center on the southeast corner of El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard. It’s a well-lit space that resembles an indoor flea market, with booths the size of small tract-home bedrooms selling a wide range of vintage merchandise. A vinyl record dealer sells classic rock LPs and movie soundtracks; around the corner is a rack of Hawaiian shirts; and behind that is a cluster of glass display cases filled with 1950s Pyrex cookware.

Owner Frank Simpson already owned two businesses in the same mall, the giant 40,000-square-foot Consignment Classics, which sells mostly furniture, and a 4000-square-foot annex that sells dinnerware, glassware and picture frames. So when the Tuesday Morning store moved out of its 10,000-square-foot location earlier this year, Simpson, 80, asked the landlord if he could move in. It’s not Simpson’s first rodeo in the antique world, either: he also operates the Kurtz Street Vintage Marketplace near the Sports Arena, where most of his tenants are dealers displaced by the April 2018 closure of the Ocean Beach Antique Mall. “It looks really good, because we started from scratch,” Simpson says. “Right now, it’s not that well known, but we are doing better. The products are a little different [than the antique malls of old] because there’s a whole new generation coming up, a lot of young people in their twenties and thirties, and they’re all looking for nostalgia. They want to wear the funny clothes we all wore in the 1960s. It’s kind of a revival thing — our dealers sell vintage clothing, shoes, old-style jewelry, gold belt buckles, vinyl records. A lot of that old stuff is selling, especially if it’s in good condition.”

Unlike Sea Hive’s Brandon Vega, Simpson says he doesn’t select or screen his vendors, many of whom previously sold their wares at the Solana Beach Antique Mall, which closed six years ago. “It’s really up to them whether they make it or not,” Simpson says. “It would be good if I could pick only good dealers, and I have some who aren’t — but if they don’t work it, if they don’t change things around and move stuff around, they won’t make any money. But as long as they pay the rent, I’m not going to do anything.”

The vast majority of his dealers, however, are passionate about what they do, Simpson says. “A lot of them love doing this and are happy to spend the hours, days, and weeks it takes to buy something for, say $100, clean it up, and sell it for $800,” Simpson says. “Some of them really love that stuff — they do the garage sales and the estate sales, bring it in, and some are making some pretty good money.”

As for his own ability to make money by running his consignment stores and antique malls, Simpson says it’s largely a labor of love. “I don’t charge that much for rent,” he says. “I charge $3 a square foot, and my costs are almost $2, so when I pay for labor and utilities, I don’t make much money.” Still, he says, his business is sound. “I have a list of 300 dealers who want to move in, and every week or two I get two or three new people who I add to the list,” he says. “I just don’t have people leaving.”

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“Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four others were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”
“Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four others were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”

Antique stores and malls are fast becoming antiques themselves. The famed “Antique Row” along Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, which at its peak numbered 25 stores — and gave the stalwart Antique Row Cafe its name — is down to just one. Dave McPheeters, who has operated the surviving Zac’s Attic for 16 years, says the only reason he’s been able to stay in business is because he owns the building.

“When we first opened our store in Oceanside six and a half years ago, my No. 1 goal was to have something for everybody,” says says Brandon Vega, one of the owners of Sea Hive Marketplace.

The Solana Beach Antique Mall, a fixture on Cedros Avenue for 35 years, shut its doors for good in March 2017. Housed in a cavernous former roller rink, the mall — home to about 100 vendors — had once been a favorite of Hollywood celebrities such as Jack Klugman and Tom Conway, who’d stop by during the Del Mar horse-racing season.

A little more than a year later, in April 2018, the huge 18,000-square-foot Ocean Beach Antique Mall, located on Newport Avenue just west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, closed down for good, to be replaced by a Target Express. More than 100 vendors were displaced. A petition to boycott the incoming Target drew some 1500 signatures; the Ocean Beach Town Council approved a resolution blasting the Target store’s opening as “disregarding the clear and expressed will of the community.” It happened anyway.

The following year, in August 2019, saw the shuttering of the Carlsbad Arts and Antique Mall, with its 22,000 square feet of space spread across two buildings, one a vintage military Quonset hut. The site is now the home of State Street Commons, anchored by a high-end seafood restaurant, Nick’s on State. Other tenants include Pure Tacos, Pacific Sotheby’s, Lofty Coffee, and Warner Bros. Games.

The latest high-profile casualty: The Ramona Antique Fair, a Main Street landmark for more than a quarter century, which closed in August 2022. The 7000-square-foot building had housed 35 dealers. A month before the mall closed, co-owner Laura Lyman told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “We talked to everybody and told our dealers. They understand the situation. The sales they were making were not enough to pay the rent. They’re not doing good and the business is not doing good.”

McPheeters, the sole remaining antique dealer on Adams Avenue, says the antique shops and malls were done in by a variety of factors, from the internet to gentrification. Online auction sites like eBay and later Etsy, took away “the thrill of the hunt,” and much of brick-and-mortar antique dealers’ foot traffic, he says. “It used to be that collectors would visit antiques store and hunt for items they were looking for. It would take them years to build a collection. Now, if you decide you want to put together a collection of, say, Fiestaware, you go online and you can buy as many items as you want in a day or two.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Internet auction sites also shattered values, he says. “Before eBay, there would be book values. People would publish books with information on pricing and values for other books, based on auction and estate sale results and condition. And those values would be pretty much standard around the country. But when eBay came around, if someone had something with a book value of $100 and threw it up on eBay and it sold for $10, then that was the new norm — no one was going to pay $100 anymore.”

Brandon Vega, one of the owners of the county’s three Sea Hive malls, agrees. “It used to be people who wanted to go antique shopping went on road trips — there used to be antique malls all along the highways, Now, they do the same thing on the Internet, and say, ‘Oh, someone on eBay or Etsy has it cheaper.’ That drove down prices, and the problem was that the person who ran an antique store in San Diego was paying three times as much rent as the person who lived in Ohio, in a small town.”

That brings up something that dealers maintain is an even bigger culprit than eBay: soaring property values and the gentrification of older San Diego neighborhoods such as Normal Heights, City Heights, North Park, and Golden Hill. “People around here used to pay a dollar or two dollars a square foot,” McPheeters says. “But then Starbucks comes in and says, ‘I want the corner,’ and offers to pay anywhere from $5 to $10 a square foot. And for that amount of money, a landlord will evict someone who’s been there 20 years. And once it starts, landlords get greedy. They evict tenants, and even if they have to wait six months, someone eventually comes in who can pay that amount of money. Antique dealers can’t.”

Lynne Petersen, who for the last 25 years has operated Old Ivy Antiques on State Street in the heart of Carlsbad’s “village,” agrees. State Street used to be known as North County’s answer to Antique Row on Adams Avenue in San Diego, but no longer. “When I got here, everybody was older — they had been doing it for years, and I was the youngest shop owner on the street. There were no restaurants except for Garcia’s. One by one, they retired, and their shops changed into restaurants, boutiques, salons, spas, and the well-rounded shopping experience you have today. It used to be a three-block trail of antiques; now, it’s everything.” Indeed — as far back as August 2004, nearly 20 years ago, the Union-Tribune ran an article on the impending closure of three downtown Carlsbad Village antique stores, noting that it was “leaving some owners to think that shopping for antiques in a string of stores along the quaint downtown streets may soon be a thing of the past.” The managers of two of the shops told the newspaper that sales were down, “and they barely have enough income to pay the rent.” One told the paper she was shutting down because her landlord doubled the rent; another cited the emergence of eBay. “It’s like a funeral around here every day,” observed one of the departing antique-store operators.

  • * * *

And yet, there’s a flip side to all of this: while antique stores and malls throughout San Diego County that have been in business for 20 or 30 years are shutting down, the handful of survivors are reimagining their spaces and vowing to carry on. And what’s even more surprising is that new antique malls are opening up.

McPheeters, the sole surviving antique store owner on what was once Antique Row, calls himself a “generalist,” but maintains it’s important to get ahead of trends. “People used to collect Depression-era glassware; today, they want Pyrex,” he says. “There are fads in antiques, and to be successful, I have to know a little about a lot. I sell glassware, pottery, silver, some jewelry, and small pieces of furniture, but the thing that keeps the lights on is Hawaiian shirts — I have over 1500.”

The former site of the Carlsbad Arts and Antique Mall is now the home of State Street Commons, anchored by a high-end seafood restaurant, Nick’s on State

Even so, McPheeters says, his store is open only on Saturdays and Sundays; during the week, he pursues other sources of income, from running estate sales and performing appraisals to giving presentations at church groups and retirement homes. “It’s like my own Antiques Road Show,” he says. “I have members of the audience brings things in, and I can tell them what they’re worth.” What he doesn’t do is eBay. Between higher fees and the pressure to offer free shipping, he says, “eBay has evolved to the point where I don’t do anything online.” He also doesn’t like the fact that eBay automatically charges a sales tax based on an average of all 50 states, and that average is higher than the local sales tax rate here in San Diego County.

Lynne Petersen, of Old Ivy Antiques in Carlsbad, says that over the years, “I changed — I had to change — with what was going on. I’ve been trying to evolve, so as the town has been growing, with lots of condos going up and people moving into the village, I really began focusing on the coastal vibe. So my shop is primarily coastal home décor with vintage finds. That’s how I describe it.” Instead of carrying only antiques, Old Ivy devotes the front of its store to a wide assortment of décor, from art to baubles, as well as furniture. In the back is the “mall” section of the store, with 20 dealers carrying a curated collection of antiques and other vintage merchandise. “I mix old and new, because people don’t collect like they used to,” Petersen says. “People used to say they collected things like Hummel figurines; they don’t do that kind of collecting anymore. It’s more to decorate their house, or complete a little grouping. So it’s not the same type of shop anymore.” Her dealers “each have a specialty. One is a jewelry dealer; someone else does crystal and china, more formal antiques. Another does garden, and then I have someone who just does funky garage sale finds. It’s great for people who are walking through town, hoping to discover something.”

Mixing old and new also is the secret to Sea Hive’s success, says Brandon Vega, one of the owners of what is now a three-store (soon to be four-store) operation. The original Sea Hive Marketplace opened in Oceanside in 2017, in a 13,000-square-foot building on South Coast Highway, with upwards of 100 vendors. A second, larger location opened in June 2021 in Liberty Station on Point Loma, and is known as Sea Hive Station, with about 140 dealers occupying 23,000 square feet of floor space. A 6000-square-foot Sea Hive Mini opened last February in the Westfield Mission Valley mall, and plans now call for a fourth location, in La Jolla, to be open July 1. Like the original Oceanside location, the La Jolla Sea Hive will have 13,000 square feet of floor space.

About the only thing Sea Hive has in common with the traditional antique malls of the past is that the business model involves a cluster of independent dealers who pay rent for booths of varying sizes. Some carry only new merchandise, from paintings to bath soaps and scrubs, from candles to decorative dog collars. Others carry a wide assortment of vintage goods with strong pop culture leanings, such as vinyl records or Hawaiian shirts from the ’60s and ’70s. In Oceanside, there’s a display with old cameras; the owner also offers film-developing services. “When we first opened our store in Oceanside six and a half years ago, my No. 1 goal was to have something for everybody,” says the 38-year-old Vega, who at the time already had nearly a decade of experience selling mid-century modern design at his own store, Atomic Bazaar. “No matter whether you are a grandma and grandpa walking in with your grandkids, a young couple, or a single 18-year-old, you should find something to pique your interest.”

Vega’s hunch was that for an antique dealer or mall to survive, it had to adapt to a new kind of customer. “At the time, I had been a modern dealer for about nine years, and you could already see the antique shops closing, because that generation was aging out of the market. A lot of the true collector generation had died, or was at the point where they already had a house full of real antiques — and by ‘real antiques,’ I mean pre-Victorian, early Americana, things that are over 100 years old. Another reason I think collecting has slowed down is that you can now go to IKEA and furnish an entire place for under $5000. It used to be that a young couple would save for a while to spend a large amount of money on a quality piece of furniture, and they’d plan to have it for the rest of their life. This generation moves around a lot, and when it’s time to move they call up their friends and say, ‘Come and get what you want before I donate and/or throw these things away — I’m going to buy new stuff.’ It’s fast furniture, as opposed to quality.”

The newest antique mall in town is the appropriately named Antique Mall in Encinitas, which opened in April in a shopping center on the southeast corner of El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard.

Today, Vega maintains, the buzz word is not so much “antique” as “vintage.” “Everyone wants stuff they wanted as kids, and as they get more established and have expendable income, that’s what they buy,” Vega says. “It’s the reason sales prices of classic cars from the 1950s are down, while prices of 1970s VW buses are going crazy. And from a trend standpoint, people want a mix. You open up an interiors magazine like Elle Décor or even Architectural Digest and most of what you see [in a given spread] is not one certain style, but a very eclectic mix. You might have a 200-year-old tansu chest from Japan with a 1970s Vladimir Kagan-designed sofa right next to it. In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a strong shift from grandma’s antiques to mid-century modern, bohemian, and all sorts of eclectic styles.”

When he opened Sea Hive Marketplace in Oceanside in 2017, Vega says, he purposely hand-picked and curated an eclectic mix of dealers. Vendors also were — and still are — required to come in at least once a week to clean and restock their booths. “The old antique mall is not sustainable,” he says. “People change, styles change. And as things change, a mall with 120 different types of things will be able to sustain itself much better. So in my model, malls change with the times. When Sea Hive Marketplace opened, we had five or six traditional antique dealers; now, there are literally zero. I have many vendors of vintage goods, and we are always careful to avoid duplication and too much of the same. My two newest stores are hyper-curated, and vendors have been by invitation only, while most of our stores have a waitlist to be a vendor. We select awesome people who sell awesome things, and we protect exclusives. Back to the vendor in my Oceanside store who sells old cameras and films and even develops film the old-fashioned way: he can barely keep up with the demand and amount of film he’s developing. He is so busy, it’s crazy. But if we had three guys doing vintage film, there likely wouldn’t be enough business to be worthwhile. Whereas most old antique malls used to rent space to anyone who would pay, even if four different vendors who were selling the same things, at Sea Hive, we want everyone to thrive.”

Vega says his stores also reflect the neighborhoods they’re in. “Every one of them, within 12 months, takes on the shape of the neighborhood,” he says. “And the vendors who do really well are the ones who a lot of times are part of that neighborhood — they know what styles are in, what the kids are wearing. Our Oceanside location, for example, reflects the funky, vibrant culture of Oceanside, which is still an old-style California beach town with a heavy military presence. Point Loma has less vintage and might be a bit more refined. And now, the La Jolla location we’re opening is more upscale, but also very much fun, hip and vibrant because we are a stone’s throw from UCSD and the student population.”

Innovation doesn’t change the fact that “brick-and-mortar retail across the board is failing,” grants Vega, “but I believe we will continue to thrive because we cast a wide-enough net in our quest to have something stimulating for every one of our shoppers.” And, he adds, “we are the epitome of shopping small and supporting the local community.” On top of that, Sea Hive aggressively harnesses social media. “That’s the beauty of the whole thing. We select the best vendors San Diego has to offer, and all of our vendors are invested alongside us by sharing with their social media platform. Those customers then discover more than a hundred other small and local businesses when they come in to shop, so our marketing reach is exponential, built-in, and it is a direct connection to our local community — not just random folks.”

The newest antique mall in town is the appropriately named Antique Mall in Encinitas, which opened in April in a shopping center on the southeast corner of El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard. It’s a well-lit space that resembles an indoor flea market, with booths the size of small tract-home bedrooms selling a wide range of vintage merchandise. A vinyl record dealer sells classic rock LPs and movie soundtracks; around the corner is a rack of Hawaiian shirts; and behind that is a cluster of glass display cases filled with 1950s Pyrex cookware.

Owner Frank Simpson already owned two businesses in the same mall, the giant 40,000-square-foot Consignment Classics, which sells mostly furniture, and a 4000-square-foot annex that sells dinnerware, glassware and picture frames. So when the Tuesday Morning store moved out of its 10,000-square-foot location earlier this year, Simpson, 80, asked the landlord if he could move in. It’s not Simpson’s first rodeo in the antique world, either: he also operates the Kurtz Street Vintage Marketplace near the Sports Arena, where most of his tenants are dealers displaced by the April 2018 closure of the Ocean Beach Antique Mall. “It looks really good, because we started from scratch,” Simpson says. “Right now, it’s not that well known, but we are doing better. The products are a little different [than the antique malls of old] because there’s a whole new generation coming up, a lot of young people in their twenties and thirties, and they’re all looking for nostalgia. They want to wear the funny clothes we all wore in the 1960s. It’s kind of a revival thing — our dealers sell vintage clothing, shoes, old-style jewelry, gold belt buckles, vinyl records. A lot of that old stuff is selling, especially if it’s in good condition.”

Unlike Sea Hive’s Brandon Vega, Simpson says he doesn’t select or screen his vendors, many of whom previously sold their wares at the Solana Beach Antique Mall, which closed six years ago. “It’s really up to them whether they make it or not,” Simpson says. “It would be good if I could pick only good dealers, and I have some who aren’t — but if they don’t work it, if they don’t change things around and move stuff around, they won’t make any money. But as long as they pay the rent, I’m not going to do anything.”

The vast majority of his dealers, however, are passionate about what they do, Simpson says. “A lot of them love doing this and are happy to spend the hours, days, and weeks it takes to buy something for, say $100, clean it up, and sell it for $800,” Simpson says. “Some of them really love that stuff — they do the garage sales and the estate sales, bring it in, and some are making some pretty good money.”

As for his own ability to make money by running his consignment stores and antique malls, Simpson says it’s largely a labor of love. “I don’t charge that much for rent,” he says. “I charge $3 a square foot, and my costs are almost $2, so when I pay for labor and utilities, I don’t make much money.” Still, he says, his business is sound. “I have a list of 300 dealers who want to move in, and every week or two I get two or three new people who I add to the list,” he says. “I just don’t have people leaving.”

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