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All in the family
Antique dealers have roots in the business

(Published April 17, 2006)

By AMY WILLIAMS
Staff Writer

Hussam Albeik remembers when he was 18 years old, working alongside his father as they ran an antique shop in Syria.

"In Syria with my father, we sold antiques and I learned a lot about the business of retail," he said. "When I moved to the United States in 1991, I worked some odd jobs but soon opened a restoration business in Woodley Park, which I owned and operated for 10 years."

The restoration studio soon evolved into Capital Antiques and relocated to 5122 MacArthur Blvd. NW.

As a one-man operation, Albeik says his business "is difficult to run and maintain." But he cites the advice his father gave him about operating a business as evidence that he knew what he was getting into: "You must have a broken leg when you open your own business - you can't go anywhere."

It's the reason that many antique dealers in the Washington area have to love what they're doing for a living. In Albeik's case, Capital Antiques specializes in fine furniture and classic art.

A family history in the business seems to be a common connection between many local antique store owners, whose eclectic collections of merchandise make each store different.

"There is very little competition in the antique business -- what's good for one business owner is good for us all," Albeik observed. "When dealing with antiques, it is extremely rare for sellers to have the same merchandise."

Across town, Norvelle Jackson pipes classical and jazz music into the cozy two-story consignment shop he calls Basements & Attics at 3217 12th Street NE. Bright paintings, modern furniture and cowboy boots occupied the shop during a recent visit.

"I focus on pieces that create dialogue," Jackson said. "Even if they are not my specific taste, they always bring about conversation."

A background in radio may account for some of the ambiance Jackson brings to his store. Originally from Ohio, Jackson relocated to work for WDCU, a jazz radio station in the District. A vast knowledge of communications soon took Jackson to a position as marketing coordinator for the National Black Family Reunion Celebration, a job title which he still holds. After a brief stint living in New York City, Jackson's entrepreneurial ambition took over and he was driven to move back to the District to open his own business.

Inspired by the friendly, social aura of Eastern Market, Jackson decided to open a consignment store that would combine business with a social atmosphere.
"Many people are happy to find a place to dispose of old goods without throwing them away … I always say the best things people have are stored away in their basements and attics," Jackson said. "I love variety. In my store, you never know what you'll find."
Basements & Attics hosts Sunday tea and recently had an antique evaluation session, where people could bring in personal items and get them appraised.

"I want my store to be a place where people want to gather and socialize," Jackson said.
Coincidentally, Jackson's mother works at a consignment shop in Ohio and gave him advice on opening his business. She continues to give him advice daily, he said.

David Friedman said he set out to bring Southern hospitality to the nation's capital when he opened Susquehanna Antique Co., a shop specializing in fine art and furniture that he has operated at 3216 O St. NW for a quarter of a century.

Friedman said his interest in antiques began in his father's shop in Asheville, N.C.

"My family has been in the business of selling antiques since 1913 -- I worked alongside of my father for years and got a good feel for the business," he said.

Friedman began to take his pieces on the road with a traveling antique show, showcasing his merchandise up and down the East Coast. Finding most success in the District, he decided to open a shop in Georgetown and has been there for the past 25 years.

Bill Sims, owner of Mom-N-Pop Antiques at 3534 Georgia Ave. NW, recalls that he got into the antiques business more than 19 years ago because the job market was tight when he graduated from college.

"My dad gave me some advice -- to open a store to tide me over until the job market got better," Sims said. "I did open a store, and I never left."

Finding interesting merchandise around the D.C. area to offer for sale is what Sims tried to do. Wooden furniture, old records, pictures and silverware were among items adorning his small shop on a busy street corner during a recent visit. A collection of keychains hangs behind the cash register among eye-catching items that line the walls.

Sims said he caters to residents and tourists who, like him, have a desire to be around nice used goods. His shop specializes in what he calls "nice, older pieces" of art and furniture - as well as a strong commitment to customer service.

Sims said that his father "had an antique business that focused on treating people right, and I try to continue that legacy."

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator