The clock is about to hit 12.pm, Yvonne Jean Rabie, 51, just finished packing a series of brown-and-red African frames ready to be mailed to it’s lucky Ebay buyer. Her husband, Daniel Carranza, an acclaimed Argentinean artist, moves a white-and-blue bird house to a side, grabs the boxes with blue USPS label on it and struts toward the exit door. “I will buy it, and drop this off on my way back,” says Carranza slowly in his Argentinian accent.
Rabie and Carranza are the owners of Ethnika, a successful antique store living between the real and virtual world while competing against retail stores in the area for buyers interested in art, and furniture. Like most antique stores today, Ethnika depends on virtual buyers as much as those who sporadically walk inside. The resale business has steadily grown since 2008, according to data provided by the Association of Resale Professsionals (NARS), even though this is a period known for its tough economic times.
The couple, both artists, have invested their life, artistic creation and effort in the business. They understand that in the world of resale merchandise, such as pawnshops and thrift shops, antique business represent 42.3 percent on sales, according NARS, they claim to feel confident, although their chances of falling victims of a stagnated economy are always part of the probabilities.
The place lacks human presence, yet expressions and texture are at full display. Colorful faces, hundreds of faces stare at eachother.The mix of cultures and smells naturally blend on the African masks and Tibetan Buddhas with price tags on a side. Each piece placed on top of antique tables surrounded by sculptures, paintings and rugs. It’s a jungle of carved woods and wild prints, but no shopper has walked in, not yet. When they do wal in, Rabie says that a walk through usually changes from making a sale to educating buyers about a piece. “ I welcome questions, I like questions, because I get to share my knowledge,” says Rabie. She enjoys showing off her rug collection, and her favorite picks “African sculptures, they are so beautiful,” says Rabie pointing at aa 4-feet metal sculpture of an African soldier.
According Highbeam business, the industry hit records in the early 1990s, even during the recession. High retail stores prices pushed middle class consumers to purchase used items, even art as affordable and unique as Ethnika’s, which by this time had around 6 years in business.
Jeanrabie and Carranza prefer to focus on the love for art and the accelerating experience of finding and selling antiques. “I don’t do it for the money, money it’s essential, but it’s second place, after art” says Rabie, a Slovenian immigrant who also spent 32 years in Brazil. Sitting next to Tibetan Buddhas almost the size of a three-year-old child she fixes her jacket, and as if ready to introduce her next thoughts she says, “my husband and I are artists, so art is always our motor.”
Ethnika competes in the market since 1987, witnessing the bankruptcy of other antique stores in area. “My mother started, and we continued, because more than a business it’s a tradition,” says Rabie. She took over the business with her husband, claiming never confronting obstacles, simply questions. “How can we be different than other stores in the area?” Rabie claims is a question always dancing in her mind.
In the mid 90s, as Ebay gained popularity, Rabie and Carranza noticed a great opportunity for their business, selling and exchanging nationally and internationally. That decision put them ahead of the game, for a while. “It was exciting, new and so different,” says Rabie staring at her husband who turns to giggle, hand on his jaw. “I used to buy and make my own bids on things I liked, and then I thought, why not sell my own?” She started taking pictures, imitating other sellers and selling, as one of the first antique businesses to embrace Ebay, a newly founded internet company by Pierre Omidyar in 1995.
Soon after, two years more or less, according to Rabie, they were not the only ones to seek this opportunity. Ebay’s success caught the attention of antique stores and book seller both industries that became an immediate major market on the website, according to a report by Highbeam Business.
Today, Ethnika enjoys the privilege of being the store in the block that hasn’t closed doors since it’s beginnings. With a blog, website and Ebay, Ethnika became a representation of a constantly growing market, a 7-percent growth for the past two years, and a multi-billion-dollar industry, according to NARTS, even though new antique stores with a bigger online presence open doors, only to close permanently month after. “When you do what you like with pleasure, the people will be attracted by genuine smiles,” says Rabie holding a set of African skirts that some time in the past, a group black teenage girls probably wore in a customary celebration. “It’s art, it’s history, it’s the energy of those girls all over these skirts, how can you not love antiques?” adds Rabie holding one skirt with her two hands around her hips.
Rabie claims that it’s “half and half” referring to the customers that approach Ethnika online or live-in-color. The number of people who walk in the store depend on the weather, she says. The highs hit 32 degrees. It’s windy and simply not an impressive nor inspiring day to buy antiques. “People don’t come on days like this, they don’t come,” says Rabie who keeps taking pictures of of frames and wooden sculptures against a white sheet to later upload them to Ebay. “I take detailed pictures, then I upload them with descriptions, one at a time,” she adds, “It’s very time-consuming.”
Sitting on her desk while her husband drops off more packages, Rabie checks bids and offers on her items from buyers around the world. “I prefer dealing with customer on Ebay, you don’t have to try to verbally convince them to buy, they already know what they want,” says Rabie.
With “Asian furniture, Tibetan Buddhas, African art, Indian accents, antique uzbeck textiles, tribal caucasian carpets” and more, as advertised on Ethnika’s website, Rabie and Carranza promise buyers to keep up the good taste for unique antiques, and the special connection, online or in real life, that has kept their business alive.