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The Clinton Antiques Road Show


No longer known as a 'blue collar town with the bluefish festival', Clinton, Connecticut has become an antique 'connection', with more draw and exposure every season. Within the last five years a constellation of new shops dealing strictly with non-essential goods and services (antiques & specialty goods) has opened in previously unoccupied (and in many cases historic) real estate, bringing a new look to the Clinton downtown and a new audience, the upscale antiquers. Clinton, once known only for clams, is now a destination point, and the 'antique connection' has definitely reached critical mass. So why has Clinton suddenly emerged as an antique hub?

If you were to take a map and a ruler and draw a triangle between Boston, New York and Providence, Rhode Island, on the mid-point of the base would be Clinton, Connecticut, a shoreline town of less than 13,000 inhabitants--until summer. Along the Boston Post Road (Route One), approximately 30 minutes north of New Haven (exits 63 & 64 off I-95), forty minutes from Hartford, ninety miles from New York City, an hour and three quarters from Boston, the historic town center of Clinton has burgeoned: clustered closely along Main Street within the space of four or so miles, you have the opportunity of viewing the merchandise of dozens of dealers, and benefit from their experience, taste, and connoisseurship. The shoreline towns of Madison and Westbrook border Clinton, and eight miles East is Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The Antique Roadshow continues up the river on both sides to Essex, Chester, Lyme and Hadlyme.

Although there had been a few antique dealers at either end of Clinton for decades (in addition to several art galleries) the arrival and continuing success of the Clinton Antique Center (a multi-dealer shop that occupied the previously-vacant cavernous Mannix Chevrolet building more than five years ago), put Clinton on the antique map. A family commitment, a savvy business plan, a lot of advertising, and the seed took hold. With more than seventy dealers and a waiting list, the CAC is flourishing.

There were further supporting circumstances. One was the adjacency of affluent towns like Madison, Guilford and Branford, where the cost of doing business is higher and retail space more pricey. And the proximity of the upscale new- development communities in Killingworth, North Madison and North Guilford. And the seasoned collectors from the Connecticut River Valley who used to go out of state to buy antiques. And the Premium Outlet Clinton Crossing and the Westbrook Mall Outlet stores. All passed on the right influences for an antique moss to happily spread in the town. Success breeds success.

Over this five year period more than twenty individual antique shops, three larger group shops (with more than 90 dealers) & a dozen specialty shops have hung out their shingles in Clinton. Each shop a distinctive personality, each dealer a unique inventory. The Clinton Historic District shops are all within walking distance of one another. On the east and west sides of town, the shops are within one to three miles in either direction.

If one dealer doesn't have it they will suggest or even call another, and send you further along encouraging you to visit their colleagues and competitors. It is an Antiquers' Underground Railway, you will always be helped further, given advice and direction in your search. The distinctly individual shops and their proprietors are responsible for this unique invisible solidarity that connects one town to another by virtue of its antique wares, the dealers who find them, and the collectors who come seeking them.

Carol Jenkins (of Wooden Wheelbarrow), Clinton Chamber of Commerce President, notes that the Chamber fields daily calls from tourists visiting the shopping outlets asking what else there is to do in Clinton. Antiquing gets a good response. It should. As recreation, antiquing is diversion & education in its broadest and rarest sense, at once history, library, gallery, pawn shop, bazaar, something for anyone.

Barbara Chambers (of Baker & Chamber Antiques) is one of the first wave of new dealers who have renovated, improved, and set up shop in Clinton's Historic Main Street properties. Ms. Chambers points out that the new ventures have been initiated almost entirely by women entrepreneurs. And that is certainly true of her neighbors. Next door, Joanne Welch of Reflections, across the street Jane Carlson of the Carlson Collection, up two doors to the east Ginny Cabe at Waterside Antiques, two doors down to the west, Claire Anderson's Antique Center, and across the street, the MiRIAM GREEN Antiquarian Book Shop & Gallery.

The Clinton Antique Center is to the west one block. This also was the vision and venture of a woman entrepreneur, Jerri Case, whose second family venture, Clinton Village, a smaller group shop with surrounding grounds, opened last summer a mile or so to the east of the town center on the Westbrook line. Miller's Antiques, Maxwell's Antiques & The Wooden Wheelbarrow are also found there. Nearby is another multi-group shop, The Square Rigger, and down the road, Lovejoy Antiques. To the west of town John Street Antiques, The Loft, Hidden Treasures, and The Cedar Chest.

Town dwellers are delighted at this turn of events with quaint shops popping up that attract an affluent and cultured tourist and give a distinctive cache. Town officials see Clinton as becoming 'the antique capital' of the shoreline. Along with the Town docks and Town Beach, nearby Hammonasset State Park, and local summer and fall events in surrounding towns, Clinton has become a destination.

The Shoreline Antiques Roadshow does not necessarily cater to the rarified antiques and auction markets of New York and London, (although you may find many a piece here and there that rightly belongs in such company). The antique alley shops cater to a wider audience and no less avid collector who desires to surround oneself with the tangible and resonant presence of objects that give pleasure by their possession.

What can you find in this eclectic and millepedean environment of antique shops? Fine (old, used, beat up, remember in antiques and collectibles these terms are relative) period (of a certain age or style) furniture, paintings, bronzes, silver, china, glass, pottery, jewelry, books, toys & dolls, sporting, smoking, drinking & transportation collectibles, kitchenware, ashtrays, bottles, baskets, valentines, trunks & boxes, radios, fire fenders, fountain pens, ad infin. Just about anything a collector collects, at a price with which you can be satisfied. Passion, perseverance, and patience, antiquing takes and gives both.

The Quirks of the Antique Trade

Imagine being a business owner having an imperative of livelihood to constantly find and purchase and turn inventory to maintain a cash flow, when your goods and services are tied to an appetite for an intangible idiosyncrasy, and your clientele do not need your goods or services. And there are five hundred other competitors within ten miles with their own superfluous goods and services.

The antique and antiquarian book trade are unlike retail markets in the most essential consideration-- competition does not diminish but rather expands the potential for collective success. The Clinton antique renaissance benefits every dealer on the shoreline, because that is the way this specialty market--like no other--operates. Quirky, unpredictable, sometimes lean and sometimes fat, a roller coaster livelihood certain to bring on agida, and no dealer really wants to be doing anything else.

The dealer is selling his and herself as a product and service only they can provide. It is a win-win situation, perhaps for that reason competition is benign. Antiques give good value for consumers even if they not collectors. Old and used goods in comparison to contemporary mass-production are of far better quality of workmanship and detail and usually a fraction of the cost. Living with, decorating with, and enjoying period decorative arts is an acquired taste, education is essential, and experience is the best education. Not everything old is valuable, and valuable is not always old.

The antiques business is a tightrope of balancing market savvy while trafficking in a desire for possessions. An antique will seek its own level, selling repeatedly at higher and higher prices until it reaches a cap off. Quality, condition, desirability dictate staying power of an object. A good antique or well-crafted period piece does not lose its value when it goes home with you. You can sit on, drink from, eat at, sleep in, walk on, and live with your antiques. But one thing is certain, the good antique or period piece will be worth more when you go to sell it than when you buy it. You don't have that certainty in the stock market.


Antique, an object that has at least a century of age, is representative of a period, style, or type, and hangs together aesthetically.

Collect, from the Latin col, together, and lect, choose or gather.

Collecting, to assemble, accumulate; secure (specimens, books, &c.), for addition to a set...

collector, one who collects &c. for addition to their set.

connoisseur, one who collects &c. with superb discrimination.

  Editor’s note: Susan Alon, proprietor of MiRIAMGREEN Antiquarian Bookshop & Gallery, in her former life was Head of Special Collections at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis and Secretary to the Historical Collections, Yale School of Medicine. She is a rare book consultant for Lyman Allyn Art Museum (New London) and a certified appraiser. Locally she offers appraisal workshops on books and is available for Library Friends’ groups seeking to raises funds with an appraisal event. If you are interested in arranging a library or community event, contact her at 88 East Main Street, Clinton, 860-664-4200.  


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