In 1997, Ron Gamba was the foreman for renovations at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. He had been working as a cabinetmaker since his arrival on Martha’s Vineyard in 1971, but he had always had an interest in antiques. “I painted my first piece of furniture at 15,” he says. “It was in Greenwich Village, on Bedford Street, in an old wooden house.” Looking around the Grange Hall as he worked, he thought that it would be a great place to sell antiques.
The summer after Mr. Gamba completed the renovations, he took out a lease to sell antiques there on Fridays in the summer. “It was just me for six or seven years,” he says. He would fill the hall with antiques, unpacking them early in the morning and re-packing them late at night, trying to bring different things every week. It made for a long day. “I was here one night at 2 am,” he says. At that point, he began to think about inviting in other exhibitors.
Patty Kirwin had worked part-time caning chairs, and started into the antiques business about 12 years ago, selling at the Oak Bluffs Flea Market and at Tuckernuck Antiques. Ms. Kirwin collects most of her antiques locally. “I try to buy on-Island,” she says. “Most of it is from estates, and some from yard sales.” Now, she sells through a shop on her property on State Road in West Tisbury as well as at the Grange.
“I always used to go to Ron’s show, and decided to join in along with about four other dealers,” she says. Now, Ms. Kirwin coordinates the other vendors, as well as selling her own collection of antiques, while Mr. Gamba sets up in the center of the hall, with his border collie Coco beside him. The number of dealers has grown substantially over the past few years. “Last year we had about 12 to 15 regular vendors, this year it’s about 20.” In addition, the market is open to off-Island antique dealers who come for a week or two in the summer. The official name for the unofficial organization is The Martha’s Vineyard Antiques Association.
Ms. Kirwin says that it’s difficult to keep a full-time retail antiques business going on the Island. “There’s always a shuffle,” she says. “I think there’s more turnover here than off-Island. A few people have had to close their stores here because the rent is so expensive.” The antiques market provides a more affordable outlet for antiques dealers, but it also draws dealers who have shops of their own, like Mickey Stone.
Mr. Stone, who is 47 years old, says that he’s been in the antiques business for 40 years. “I grew up in the antique business,” he says. “My mother was Eve Stone.” She had a shop in North Tisbury, which Mr. Stone now runs. “I started working with my mother when I was no longer a liability — as soon as I stopped breaking things.” He is new to the Grange Antiques market this year. “I’ve had a shop forever,” he says, “and it’s good for me to go out and meet the people, to let them know that we dealers want to keep the business alive.”
Judy McConnell, a real estate broker, sells antique table linens at the Grange and at the Chilmark Flea Market. “I started with household things,” says Ms. McConnell, “and I found out that the linens were very popular. I got hooked. People call me now if they’re cleaning out a household.” Some of the tablecloths are white, but others have bright vintage prints on them. “These colorful ones make people happy. They say, ‘Oh, it reminds me of Grandma.'”
Visitors weave through the various vendors’ displays, which flow into one another almost seamlessly in the hall. Some of the visitors browse while others seek out specific pieces. Mr. Gamba says that interior designers and decorators come to the show regularly. Others come to see the sights. Dale Julier was on her second visit of the summer last Friday. “I always come when I have guests visiting,” she said, “especially if it’s a gray day.”
For visitors and regular customers, Mr. Gamba and Ms. Kirwin try to keep a range of antiques and collectibles, with something different every week. “I always sell antiques,” says Mr. Gamba. “I also sell antique cars. I park them out front here. The cars get the husbands to stop, and I did sell one great old truck out there.” The multiple antique vendors bring the show more variety than Mr. Gamba could manage on his own. “I like to have a wide array of everything,” he says.
Friday antiques shows will continue through September 10. In the fall there will be shows on Friday, Oct. 8, and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 26 and 27. For more information, call 508-696-7979.