Market Warriors' Bob Richter on Antiques Picking in NYC and on the Road

Michelle Michalos | July 12, 2012

Bob Richter of 'Market Warriors.' Photo courtesy of WGBH.

Market Warriors, a new PBS series from the producers of Antiques Roadshow, joins THIRTEEN’s Monday night lineup starting July 16 at 9 p.m. The series follows four antiques pickers on a nationwide treasure hunt as they scour flea markets and antiques shows for vintage valuables, with an eye toward selling their finds for profit at auction. The show grants viewers an up-close look at the fierce competition and obstacles the pickers face in the marketplace, and allows them to make their best guesses about who will come out ahead at the end of the competitions.

Here, Market Warriors picker Bob Richter, a New York City resident, weighs in on the show and his favorite NYC flea market finds.

(Fun fact: Bob Richter is not the only Market Warrior with New York ties.  John Bruno was born and raised in Long Island).

Enter our giveaway for a chance to win a market Warriors tote bag.

Mr. Richter answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: Are there any items you collect that could only be found in New York City?

Bob Richter: While there is not one item I collect that can only be found in NYC, there are international shopping opportunities that can only be found at my “go-to” flea market in NYC. One of the reasons I love living here is that it is the most international city in the U.S., and as such, our flea markets reflect that.  There are dealers who I buy from regularly who come from France, Germany, England and Czechoslovakia. While I love shopping the fleas in Europe, I can’t get there right now as often as I’d like, so this winds up being a pretty sweet scenario. I have found incredible French Art Deco vases, hand-carved items (like a wonderful rabbit) from the Black Forest region of Germany, English Art Nouveau China and Czechoslovakian Art Pottery, all at my NYC flea market. It’s a one-stop shop for fantastic international finds.

IT: What’s the most unusual item you’ve bought? Do you ever find antiques at unlikely spots in the city (street fairs, thrift shops, etc.)?

BR: The most unusual thing I purchased recently was a carved wooden cloud with lightening bolts projecting from it. It stopped me in my tracks, and I knew I had to have it. I am going to add a mirror to the center, and it will be a real showpiece. It definitely has a “wow” factor. The piece is all handcrafted and was probably made in the late 19th Century. I was told by the dealer it was a prop for stage productions done by a group called the “Odd Fellows.” One of the reasons I love antiquing is that you can always learn something. After a bit of research online, I discovered the “Odd Fellows” are a “global altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization” whose motto is “Friendship, Love and Truth.”  Some of the more famous members included Charlie Chaplin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Wyatt Earp, Rutherford Hays and Warren Harding.

Street fairs in NYC are great places to find antiques…. especially the ones that are organized by block associations. I’ve found particularly wonderful things at the fairs on Jane, Perry and Grove Streets. In addition, Housing Works and Angel Street thrift shops offer up an endless supply of treasures from generous New Yorkers who donate abundantly.

IT: What flea markets in NYC would you recommend to novice collectors?

BR: I think The Garage in Chelsea is the best game in town. I’ve been shopping there for 22 years, since I arrived in NYC. My dorm room resembled a 1940s bungalow, and many of the items I used to furnish it came from the Chelsea flea markets. At that time, there were 5 outdoor markets, in addition to The Garage. As real estate developers tapped into the Chelsea, the parking lots which once housed the fleas turned into high rise apartments, so The Garage is really the best of what is left in that area. I’ve been shopping with some of the dealers there for decades, and they never disappoint when it comes to bringing wonderful things to the table.

IT: If you could give a flea market novice one tip what would it be?

BR: Buy what you love. At the end of the day, if it makes you happy and it enriches your home, then it’s all good. Live with what you love!

IT: What was it like Filming Market Warriors in “The Garage?”

(NOTE: Episode 111 of Market Warriors, filmed at the Antiques Garage will premiere on Monday, November 12 at 9 p.m.)

Market Warriors pickers John Bruno, Miller Gaffney, Bob Richter and Kevin Bruneau (l-r). Photo courtesy of David Aaron Troy.

BR: Every weekend that I’m in NYC, I’m at The Garage (usually both Saturday and Sunday). As a result, I have great, long-standing relationships with most of the dealers there.  Since flea markets are an arena where relationships are everything, I knew I would get good prices.  That said, we were buying for an auction in Virginia, and I had my eyes set on what would appeal to those buyers. I was looking for primitives and more rustic items, which made the shopping a bit more challenging, but since NYC offers something for everyone, and never disappoints, I was able to find Virginia-appropriate treasures with ease.

Our target round was to find “ephemera,” which is essentially printed material that was meant to be thrown out after its original use but instead has lasted over time so now has collector value. Examples run the gamut from vintage posters to magazines. While there was a lot of it to be found, the object of Market Warriors is to turn a profit on our purchases, so it was a challenge to not just find ephemera, but to find ephemera that would make money at auction.  Did I also mention we had to pair up for this round of shopping? Let’s just say it was very very interesting…and a whole lot of fun.

IT: What is your favorite season to shop NYC markets and thrift shops?

BR: I shop all year round at the fleas in NYC, but my favorite season to shop them is spring. Just as nature awakens after a long, cold winter, so do NYC fleas. Many dealers who come in from other states don’t come as often in the winter due to weather conditions, but once spring hits, they are back in the saddle with lots of fresh merchandise. Also, in the spring there are many outdoor markets in NYC that pop up to benefit charities or block associations, and those often have great bargains. Finally, under the umbrella of spring cleaning, many of the thrift shops have some of their best merchandise at that time of year, since NYC dwellers have limited space and often want to purge after a long winter.

Bob Richter. Photo courtesy of WGBH.

IT: As a collector who is also an interior designer, do you find the lack of space in NYC to be a challenge?

BR: We have to be very clever in NYC when it comes to maximizing space. To work in a room, many things have to do double duty (think an old steamer trunk that stores winter bedding, but also serves as a side table – I literally just tapped into this solution for a client’s studio). As a collector, I also believe in rotating my things, so they are not all on display at the same time. I do this a lot with artwork, which is one of my favorite things to purchase at bargain prices at flea markets.

IT: Are there any locations that you are particularly curious to explore with Market Warriors?

BR: I’m sweet on Texas. The Texans I’ve met and worked with are warm, bold and eclectic. As such, they tend to have cool possessions, which invariably wind up at flea markets. We’ve already gone to Canton, Texas with Market Warriors and it was great fun. I’d love to explore the markets of Austin, Houston and San Antonio as well.

IT: If you could only collect one thing what would it be?

BR: Artwork. I have so much respect for those who create. Whether an artist has captured a glance or a moment, or enabled us to see the world in a different way, I find that paintings in particular hold a great deal of emotion for me. Because I’m so passionate about artwork, I own a great deal of it, and have to rotate my collection. I need a few more walls!