Founder Margaret Brusher remembers the Ann Arbor Antiques Market at its peak. “We had shows from April through November–that was the standard for decades–and we’d have 500 dealers, and attendance was always great.”
Brusher started the sale at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in 1968, moving it to the Washtenaw Farm Council grounds in Saline three years later. She ran it until 1997, when “I got an offer to put it in very good hands: Tom Monaghan’s. He loved the market. He came at five o’clock in the morning–always. He and my husband and a third friend made the rounds together and then had breakfast afterwards.”
Monaghan bought the market in 1997, and Brusher says he “chose managers so as not to interfere with our feelings.” She pauses, then adds, “it didn’t pan out.”
That’s one way of putting it. Woody Straub, husband of Brusher’s successor, Nancy Straub, puts it differently. “Tom Monaghan was interested in the market, but only if Nancy would run it,” says Straub. “Things were good up until 9/11, which was a benchmark in the antique world like it was in the rest of the world.”
“After 9/11, things started to drop off,” agrees Doreen Birnie, who started at the market under Brusher and stayed on as Nancy Straub’s assistant manager. “And when the economy started to go down, it was getting to be a struggle to get dealers to come to Michigan. In a busy month we would have 300 to 400 dealers, but it would get as low as 180.”
Things got worse when the devoutly Catholic Monaghan gave the market to Father Gabriel Richard High School in 2007. “The original plan was to donate all proceeds for scholarships,” says Woody Straub. “Nancy said she would stay on and assist them in learning the business and then withdraw, but there was a conflict. The gals who were running the school thought they could do it better, so they fired Nancy two months before the first show started–and the result was chaos!”
Birnie backs Straub’s account. “The ladies from the school were advised on how to run it, but it wasn’t how a market was run. It’s a business and has to be run like a business, not like a little flea show. I remember I was at the customer gate, and people I knew would ask me what was wrong.”
Liz Schoch, marketing director for the Antiques Market and development director for FGRHS, won’t say how far the vendor count fell. But she says it has since recovered.
“Last year was best we had in five years,” Schoch says. “And this year, we’re confident we’ll have 175 to 200 dealers, which is up fifty from last year.”
Schoch attributes the revival partly to “a renewed interest in antiques. We’re seeing more families come out, more parents showing the antiques to kids like it’s a museum.” But, she stresses, it’s also because “we changed the look of the market when we took over five years ago. We made the conscious decision to make it more upscale. We totally qualitied it up.”
Margaret Brusher agrees about the market’s quality. At eighty-seven, she still goes to shows regularly–and says she’s optimistic about the school’s management. “It’s going to be the best it can be again. It’s hard to bring it back from downhill. But they’ll do it because they are very careful and caring.