Curiosities Abound at This Semi-Hidden Gem

Tucked away on the lower level of Savage Mill’s Old Weave building is an oft-overlooked treasure trove. Adjacent to the busy dining options at Dive Bar & Grille and Roggenart, and underneath the hustle and bustle of weddings in the Great Room, lies The Antique Center. With over 20,000 square feet of display space and an array of eclectic items, a visit to The Antique Center is a visual feast. Looking for a suit of armor? Old German letterpress blocks? Uranium glass? Mid-Century Modern furnishings? The Antique Center has all of this and more.

Walking through the courtyard entrance, we turned right and pulled open the double doors into a world of timeless appeal. Our gaze immediately fell on the piece de resistance, an ornate early 1900s brass cash register proudly displayed at the front counter. It lays claim to being owner Julie Baker’s first antiques purchase. We spoke with Julie to learn more about The Antique Center and why it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

How did the Antique Center get started?

I’ve always loved antiques and, in 1983, my sister, Evelyn, and I started a small business doing antique shows. That led to opening a weekend shop in Ellicott City, all while managing full-time careers. I was very interested in the idea of an antique marketplace where multiple dealers could display and sell their antiques without having to man a shop. I started searching for suitable space and was approached by Jay Winer of Savage Mill. I fell in love with the Mill on my first visit and was intrigued by Jay’s vision for the future of it. In 1988, I took the leap to leave my career as a pediatrics nurse and The Antique Center was born!

What do you love about the antiques business?

I love antiques for the history and memories attached to them. Antiques demonstrate craftmanship and artistry that you don’t often see anymore. The business is endlessly interesting…there is always something to learn. Collectors of antiques tend to be curious people and curious people are never boring! 

You have over 150 dealers operating out of your space. How does that work? And what kinds of things do they specialize in?

Our dealers rent space from us and maintain their own inventory. We have a staff of 15 and we take care of selling for them, so there’s no need for dealers to be present. It’s a great model for them because it frees them up for buying trips, shows and, in some cases, their full-time careers. Many are in freshening up their booths once a week or more, some less frequently, but there is always something new coming in.

We have such a large variety of inventory. We have furniture ranging from Federal to Mid-Century Modern, glassware, coins, jewelry, linens, art, rare books, sports collectibles, vintage clothing and accessories, medical and scientific gadgetry, dolls, pottery and china, quilts, silver, military items…the list goes on.

What are some pieces or experiences that have stood out over the years?

It’s hard to pick, but one thing that might be interesting is our “Hollywood” connections over the years. One of our first customers was Tom Selleck! He was filming a movie in Baltimore County and stopped by. We also had several visits from Kevin Bacon when he was filming He Said, She Said in Baltimore City. Set decorators make frequent trips to the Antique Center…we’ve had pieces featured in series such as House of Cards and Lady in the Lake, as well as the movie Lincoln!

What are some things you see your clientele interested in these days?

We get this question a lot and, honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint it to just a few categories. There are as many collectors of items as there are genres of inventory that we offer. I can say that jewelry is always popular…things go in and out of style, but jewelry always sells.

We have been seeing more young people, which is encouraging. They seem to be interested to vintage clothing, mid-century modern decor and vinyl records among other things. Uranium glass has experienced a bit of a resurgence recently, as well. This may be an effect of social media. We’ve always seen trends brought on by popular culture…Mid-Century Modern gained a lot of traction when the show Mad Men began, for example. These days, a TikTok or YouTube video featuring a collector of uranium glass goes viral and we’ve got Gen Z coming in on the hunt with their black lights…we love it!

You’ve been in business here for over 30 years as a woman-owned business, and your daughter is very involved in the business as well. What are some words of wisdom or encouragement you’d like to share with other woman-owned or multi-generational small businesses? 

Support is so important…surround yourself with a team who loves what you’re doing as much as you do. There are always ups and downs in business that are beyond your control. What you can control is the atmosphere in which you work and the people you choose to spend your working life with. Over the last 36 years, we’ve really established a family! I love having my daughter, Dianne, working with me. It gives me peace of mind that she’s been able to step in where needed seamlessly. And the idea of the Antique Center staying in the family is such a lovely thought. Our visions for the future of the business are aligned, and I take great pride in that.

You’ve seen a lot of changes in your time here at the Mill. What are some things that are different now from how it was at the beginning? 

There has always been an atmosphere of teamwork and contagious positivity at the Mill, but the current team is just incredible. The appearance gets better and better and I appreciate the amount of effort that takes. I personally think the Mill looks the best it ever has. So much has changed over the years in business in general. The internet and social media have altered the landscape in many ways and it’s wonderful that the Mill has really taken advantage of that.

I wouldn’t be in any other place and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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