RUTLAND TOWN — Even a small distance can make a big difference in retail, as Michael Bishop learned when he moved his antiques shop, Popular Pioneer, into the former Polaris dealership building about 438 feet west of its previous location on Route 4, next to Bikram Yoga.
Popular Pioneer opened for business at the new digs Nov. 27.
The previous location “was good for what it was, but it wasn’t as good as this,” he said, emphasizing the new space offers a chance to develop a robust retail strategy.
Two immediate benefits of the new space are big windows and easy parking. He said he can imagine the windows lit up on a snowy day, beckoning shoppers into the store. Unlike the previous location, people will have time to see the business as they drive by, and to stop. A large sign is visible from both directions.
The windows also provide good natural light for viewing, and objects are displayed to advantage. “People have an idea about an antique shop that it’s dirty, musty, smelly,” he said. “This is completely opposite. I want you to see everything as it would be in your home, cleaned up and respected the way it should be. You can walk through and see everything in a fast manner rather than breaking your ankle on clutter. This space is almost like a true retail center.”
Bishop shares the one-story building with an adjacent space planned as a deli. He looks forward to seeing a lot more tourist walk-in business as people wait for sandwiches or browse before going next door to get something to eat. “Tourists want to find that hidden gem,” he said.
Bishop got into the antiques business 10 years ago as a hobby, splitting his working life in tourism between Killington and Nantucket. Popular Pioneer, which he started one year ago, is his first “official” shop by himself. He now is married and living locally year-round.
“I’ve always been a fan of history, and the way things work and how things were made, how things lasted so long. More thought and energy were put into things. You had to go out and cut a tree,” he said. “There’s a story behind most everything I carry.”
Period, the materials used, the provenance: All contribute to the character of each object. Some items are now hard to find because of floods, fire and damage. Wear marks, worn rungs on chairs, skillful repairs, all add character and uniqueness. “That’s why it’s so valuable,” Bishop said.
But the big sale isn’t the whole story for Bishop.
“What’s fantastic, to me, is when they find something they like, they can’t pay a lot of money, they can’t afford it, but they get to have that. It’s just positive all the way around. They have this and it will last forever.”
Another reason to price fairly is turnover in inventory. “For the most part, for dealers, I keep my prices at a point where they can do well if they buy from me. It keeps the wheels turning, keeps the product moving, and then more people will be coming in to see what new (things) you have,” he said.
The same goes for people looking to sell something. He always buys from local people “as much as I can and as fair as I can.” The benefit of a prominent location is that people can find him, and if he pays a fair price they return.
“I’m not a pawn shop, I have my niche for this area and that’s local stuff,” he said.
Bishop favors an eclectic inventory — the more variety the better. He has industrial objects, such as advertising signs, buckets and maple syrup tins; skis: jumping, military, Dartmouth skis, hickory skis with bindings that show the evolution of binding technology.
From the World War II era, 48-star flags on sticks, a China trade trunk, and children’s furniture — often hand-made from recycled materials such as old crates.
A question he often gets is, why does this area do so well with antiques? “I think it’s because we actually sell antiques,” he said. “You’re going to come across an antique no matter what, especially in Vermont, because people don’t like change. People like to keep things.”
As for the name of the business, in Bishop’s mind “popular pioneers” were the ordinary people in the past who made a difference. “My friends say, ‘You think you’re a popular pioneer’ and I say, ‘That’s not it at all.’ It’s a term. I want to represent popular pioneers,” he said, adding, it has good alliteration.
The Popular Pioneer is located at 1236 Route 4. Reach the store at 772-4459.