By Nessa Conley Speirs, on assignment for CentralKentuckyAntiques.com
Travelers from Cincinnati are greeted by a giant water tower near I-75 South proclaiming the phrase, “Florence, Y’all”– a perfect southern welcome to the town that plays host to the Burlington Antique Show. Every summer season the show brings together more than two hundred antique dealers, collectors, and visitors for, in the words of Tony Pham, current show owner and manager, “a great, friendly show.”
Pham, who has had sole responsibility for the family-run business since his father-in-law retired in 2004, had a lot to say about the show when I got the chance to speak to him about it.
“We’re very fortunate to be in that area,” he says of Florence, a highly centralized town drawing crowds not only from Kentucky but from a handful of neighboring states. “The Midwest is such a great place to collect.”
While Pham seems well aware of how fortunate he is to be surrounded by so many avid collectors, those in the area near Florence probably don’t know how fortunate they are to have someone as passionate about antiques, and as loyal to the business, as Pham at the helm.
Pham, who got to know the area through his wife, has lived there for ten years; he describes Kentucky’s rolling hills region as “picturesque”. A self-proclaimed antique lover and former resident of Chicago, Pham admits to now rising at three a.m. on show days to prepare for the event.
I asked him how the show came about. While the love of collecting is pervasive in this environment, a sense of entrepreneurialism seems more the culprit for the antique show’s conception: “There was a need and a trend that was going on at that time; my mother-in-law used to go and collect and shop antiques… and my father-in-law thought it was a good time to start one up.”
And fill a need it did– the show started with only forty dealers committed to the event, and since then has expanded to draw in excess of two hundred antique dealers each season, each one contributing to the eclectic diversity of the collection.
One dealer, he says, claims to have run across an antique hand-woven miniature Longaberger basket for $500, which was later appraised at the Antiques Roadshow at $7,000. “You can always find a great piece at a great price if you’re willing to come out and shop and bargain.”
Though thousands of items come to the Boone County Fairgrounds for the antique show every year, Pham has a soft spot for retro mid-century pieces. He describes one of his recent favorites, now taking up residence in his kitchen– a 1940s candy store register: “the highest item would only go up to $1.99,” he says, chuckling. “It’s a great vintage piece, you can put that right in your home. We use it to keep change in.”
Re-purposing antiques seems to be gaining popularity. “I think we’re starting to pique the interest of my generation… we see more and more young people coming out. I think they [re-purpose] more nowadays than in the past.”
The main reason he says he took over the reigns? “New blood,” he says, noting that when his father-in-law retired, he wanted to keep the show– which is closing in on its thirtieth year of operation– in the family.
I asked him if another generation will continue Burlington Antique Show’s decades-long legacy. “I think I have plenty of time left,” he laughs. Collectors can rest assured– Tony Pham isn’t going anywhere.
His advice for new visitors to his show is to come out ready to shop and bargain. “Don’t hesitate to ask if they can do a little bit better,” he says, encouraging a bit of fearlessness in antique shoppers. “People are very nice… if you like something enough, they’ll make it worth your while.”
It seems like just visiting the Burlington Antique Show, nestled in its “picturesque” corner of Kentucky– and perhaps getting a chance to meet and talk with Tony Pham– are worthwhile enough.
For more information on the Burlington Antique Show, visit their website at http://www.burlingtonantiqueshow.com, or contact them through the following:
BURLINGTON ANTIQUE SHOW
P.O. BOX 58367
CINCINNATI, OHIO 45258
(513) 922 – 6847
Nessa Conley Speirs is a freelance writer based out of Pittsburgh; she has a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Metropolitan State College of Denver and is working toward a Masters of Fine Arts in writing from Carlow University. She has had work published in a number of online and print publications and is currently a writer for the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh. A lover of thrifting, vintage kitsch, and antiques, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to write for CentralKentuckyAntiques.com.