By Alexandria Abramian Mott
4:26 PM PST, January 4, 2013
The last of the Westside’s antique malls is closing: Wertz Bros. Antique Mart announced that it will shut its doors forever Feb. 1.
Shoppers have been descending upon the Lincoln Boulevard store for discounts of 20% to 65% on almost every item in the 20,000-square-foot Santa Monica warehouse. During one recent visit, cars were parked three deep in the lot and the long line at the register included “Mad Men” creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner, who purchased midcentury coffee mugs, drinking glasses and a lamp.
But for fans of vintage design, the Wertz Bros. Antique Mart represents more than another sale. It’s the end of an institution, a place where the Party Perk coffee maker near the door has fueled shoppers including Diane Keaton, Martha Stewart, Hollywood set designers and interior decorators, as well as everyday pickers who have come to a store that is at once clean yet delightfully cluttered, has yardsticks conveniently hanging on almost every corner, offers valet parking and has an eager sales staff charmingly wearing name tags in easy-to-read, 24-point type.
The Antique Mart embodied the city’s quirky mix of high-end and rag-tag elements, customers said, and its pending closing has raised the question: Does the end of West L.A.’s last large-scale antique mall signify the closing chapter of a tchotchke-combing way of treasure collecting?
With prices ranging from $1 to $5,000 and objects as diverse as the 150 dealers who have set up booths, the Antique Mart is typical of antiques malls across the country. A 1960s jet engine cover mount on a stand for $2,595? Check. Or how about those peach-colored Tupperware cups etched, tattoo-style, by inmates at the Folsom State Prison in the 1990s? They go for $50 to $100 each.
Crystal chandeliers and 19th-century French secretaries keep company with worse-for-wear kimonos and not-quite-complete sets of glassware. Everything from the badly tarnished to the perfectly polished — collections and personal passions with a range and depth that one usually does not see in a single-dealer antiques store — has been for sale at the Antique Mart since its opening in 2001.
Antique malls in Westchester, Culver City and what is now the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax district of L.A. have closed in the years since. As for Wertz Bros., with a patchwork of dealers who each pay up to $495 a month in rent, the reason for its demise is simple: Rising property values make selling even the fanciest of mint-condition collectibles a difficult proposition.
“The Wertz brothers own this building, and I think with the way prices are skyrocketing in this area, they felt the timing was right to sell,” said Antique Mart manager Robin Messick, adding that “the nearby Denny’s was assessed for $2 million and sold for $11 million last year.”
Though antique malls also have to contend with the likes of EBay, Craigslist and 1stdibs, which have made it easier to buy antiques online anywhere, anytime, some industry watchers said the future of brick-and-mortar antique emporiums might not be so bleak after all.
“I think these type of places will succeed now, maybe even more than before,” said Marsha Bemko, executive producer of “Antiques Roadshow.” Dealers who team up to share overhead expenses are not “hanging by the skin of your teeth” while trying to battle online sellers. More important, she said, customers like the in-person experience. They not only want to see and touch potential purchases but also to engage their local community.
“There’s a huge variety at a single location, and unlike online, you know the dealer is going to be there next week, next month, standing behind what they’re selling,” Bemko said. “I predict we’re going to see more malls in the future.”
Mike and Larry Wertz will keep operating their second store, the 55,000-square-foot Wertz Bros. Furniture store on Santa Monica Boulevard, and they have offered to mentor manager Messick and assistant manager Anthony Hudson as they try to find a new Westside location and reopen the antique mall as their own venture, Messick said.
Tauni Brustin, the dealer with the inmate-etched Tupperware, said that after renting four 10-by-10-foot booths in the Antique Mart for seven years, she is moving to an antiques mall in Pasadena. But if Messick is able to reopen the Antique Mart on the Westside, Brustin said, she’ll be back.
“This place bustles, and there’s even a wait list of more than a dozen dealers,” Messick said.
“I am hopeful. Basically you have a very successful business: We have a lot of customers, and a lot of dealers who are happy. We just need a new playground.”
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times