On the Israeli Antique Trail

So many of my American friends have asked me about antiques and vintage in Israel – after all it’s a European hub, occupied by the Brits for many years, plus all the other “outside” influence and immigrants. For those of you who don’t know, I had an antiques business for over 20 years in Los Angeles. Owning both retail space and having an internet shop, it was a fun outlet, providing extra income as well. I’ve done appraisals and helped with estate and tag sales, and one of my favorite activities was scouring flea markets, shops, garage sales, and larger shows for beautiful things at great bargains. Actually, it had become an addiction. I sold and gave away many, many things when we moved here, and vowed the quest for treasures had come to an absolute end. Wrong!!!

I had briefly visited the shuk ha pishpishim, the flea market, in Old Yaffa while on my pilot trip. The neighborhood alone is filled with history. Comprised of Crusader shops and buildings, as well as buildings from Ottoman times and tenement housing from the early days of Israel, it had fallen into severe disrepair – and ill repute. Yet it retained an ancient atmosphere, and in the 1990s the spaces began to be rented out by Boho artists, musicians, actors, and young folk who were unable to afford the rapidly rising real estate prices in neighboring Tel Aviv. Within 10 years, investors began to see the value in restoring these old haunts, and now it is in the middle of the gentrification process. There are run-down hovels next to trendy, upscale cafes, bed & breakfasts, chic boutiques, antique and vintage shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels. Architects today are building living spaces atop remodeled shops – and the prices are going up, up, up. In the midst of all this, is the flea market. Where people sell EVERYTHING from used clothes and random junk – to some interesting finds. And surrounding the flea market are antique and vintage shops. Sometimes, there are deals to be found, but for the most part, the prices reflect the wanna-be hip and upscale nature of the place. Many of the furniture pieces have been modernized with new paint, fixtures, and upholstery. Still, if you like mid-century modern, prices are still less expensive than Los Angeles. It’s a totally fun day, just to walk around and take in the shops, the people, and eat at one of the cafes (our favorite is Puah, featuring organic farm-to-table mostly vegetarian delights with a MidEast twist. The prices are moderate, and the ambiance incredible. The inside is filled with interesting vintage items, the outer patio areas are very country, and the best place in Yaffa to people-watch). We decided to make a day-trip of it, but came back empty-handed.

Our next destination was Jerusalem. There are very high end silver, crystal and china shops – with lots of jewelry – outside the Old City on David haMelech as you make your way to the First Station and German Colony. They know what they have, for sure, and the prices are incredibly unaffordable to the average person. Within the Old City in the Christian and Muslim Quarters, there are rows and rows of shops selling antiquities. It’s a real problem. Most of the items are fake, even though some dealers will issue “certificates of authenticity.” Most of the items that are real have been looted from archaeological sites, tombs, and caves throughout the Middle East- and are thus illegal to purchase (or to sell). The Israeli government is involved in cracking down on this at present, making the shop owners catalogue and document every purchase and sale. Many of the antiquities-“Herodian”/”Canaaanite”/”Davidic” are actually black market items that fund terrorism. But that is for another post…. In Hurva Synagogue Square, there are a couple antique shops selling mostly Judaica, but there are other items like jewelry and statuettes. Beautiful items, but absolutely no bargains whatsoever. Along the outskirts of the Mehane Yehuda Market, people spread blankets, selling second, third, and fourth hand items – clothes, dishes, books, utensils). Perhaps there will be a hidden treasure there, but…

On our return, we stopped in the little town of Abu Ghosh (Emmaus), a mostly Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. King David went there to meet the Ark of the Covenant to bring it into Jerusalem. Today the site is marked by a Catholic church and convent of the Little Sisters of St. Joseph. Down the street from there is the beautiful Benedictine Abbey, where daily Masses are chanted in plainchant in French and Latin, and classical music concerts are held throughout the summer. For those not worried about Kosher laws, Abu Shukri hummus is supposedly the oldest and best in Israel. But we were there for an antique store I’d heard of. Beit Arabesque. A huge palace of European antiques with rooms and rooms and rooms – Architectural salvage. Furniture. China. Silver. Some high quality. Most in disrepair. So – we went in to look around. We look Anglo. I try to speak Hebrew (oops?), but I don’t think it would have mattered. I also dress modestly with my head covered, so I also look Jewish. (oops?). I’m looking around and am taking pictures (huge oops!). We start to be followed – very, very closely by the salesperson. No prices are marked. I inquire about prices. She does not want to give me an answer – and when she does, there is no friendliness. I try to bargain on a few items. I think I insulted the woman, because she came back with Uncle Abu, who then told us a price that was six times higher than she had quoted!!!!!!! Needless to say, we left soon after without buying a thing…..

I’ve visited a couple cute vintage shops in Qiryat Shmona and Deganya. Nice, but no great finds. Just as well: I didn’t need to spend the money, and didn’t need to tempt the old addiction. Then I heard Haifa had an interesting shuk ha pishpishim. So, John and I decided to make a stop as I had some doctors’ appointments at Rambam. Afterwards, we’d check it out. OH MY WORD!!!! What a place!!!!! Two streets, back-to-back. With everything imaginable, from secondhand junk to the most wonderful. Many of the “shops” are miniscule one-room closets, with most of the merchandise sprawling along the sidewalks and literally into the streets. There are four or five more “with-it” places. The first I went in was Me’paam, second hand, or from another time. Filled with beautiful things actually arranged in beautiful vignettes. Furniture (much country and shabby chic), glorious enamelware, vintage jam jars and bottles, ironstone….the prices were a moderate to inexpensive. The owner, as it turns out – is from LA! No wonder I felt so at home. I did make one incredible find: I bought a small hand-blown English Regency decanter from 1805-1820 for an unbelievable 32 shekels – about $9!!! I would sell it in the States for at least $125…. SCORE!!!!

We walked around, and saw so many wonderful – and useful items – for really cheap, too. I found a lovely metal three-tiered tea cart – needed new paint and wheels – for serving food on our balcony; a great large vintage metal net fruit stand – to put flowerpots in; and a super-cool wooden storage box. At one shop. I had chatted up one of the owners – in Hebrew – and he graciously offered us Turkish coffee and cookies. John even took a picture with him. The store inside was clean and full of all kinds of interesting vintage items. Mid-century modern, Americana, old record albums, lighting, scales, furniture.  Uri gave us a good price for the three items I wanted. Then, Zohar, the owner of  8 Kibbutz ha Galyot came over and more than doubled the price when we pulled out a credit card. $40 soon became $100. No discount – unless cash. Then he’d generously bring it down to $90. No thank you, Sir. So much for your fine deals….

I’m so thankful we didn’t buy anything anywhere else – until we visited the last shop at the end of the street…

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    Dude!!!! Oh my goodness!! Holy stromboli!!!! We hit the MOTHERLODE!!!!! Primitives. Old washstands! Brass beds! Enamelware!!! Two dough bowls (huge!!!!) with their original stands – mid 1800’s Europe – only $100 each. In the States these could fetch upwards of $1000. Then I saw what I’d been coveting in the States 5 years ago – an old European enamel-on-steel baby bathtub (huge) with its original stand! I’d been pricing them at architectural salvage and antique shops in CA, but couldn’t justify $600-$850, no matter how hard I’d try. Perfect for an herb garden. Or put ice in it and serve cold drinks on the patio – towels by the pool (we don’t even HAVE a pool!)…. and this tub and stand was less than $75. Made in the late 1800’s – in perfect condition! BINGO!!! Plus a gorgeous fruitwood trug basket for a mere $15!!! YIKES STRIPES!!!

We promised to come back…. after all Hannah had just leased the large warehouse space adjacent and was expecting a huge shipment from Europe later in the week. So, I had another doctor appointment at Rambam on Sunday, and we decided to check out BonBon Antiques, Vintage & Coffee. As they say in Israel “Whywhywhy!!!!” Which is like OyVaVoy!!! or Holy Smokes! Furniture!!! From France, Hungary, Belgium, Vienna!!!!! And the prices!!!! I’ve never seen anything like it. We most certainly did NOT have a budget for anything. Zilch. Kloom. Nada. But…..

John had Little League coaching that night, but I had taken lots of pictures of many pieces. So I sat home alone. And Obsessed. And researched comparables. And obsessed. And called a girlfriend in California:THANKS, DEANNA!! And obsessed. And planned and measured spaces. And obsessed some more. Looked at my old Victoria magazines. Called another girlfriend: THANKS, LYNNE!! Then John came home. We had no budget for this. We certainly had no room for this. We had stopped collecting. Yes, they were all incredible deals. Neither of us had seen anything comparable to the four ladies’ chairs. NO!!! NO!!!! We decided NO!!!!! So – I waited four agonizing days. Then on our last return trip from Rambam, we decided to stop just to see if these items were available There were eight in all. Two had been sold. But my favorite six were still there. We made a deal. Not nearly as good as we had decided on, but we decided to forego the extra delivery charge ($100) which was more than the price of one chair.

Going home was like a scene from the old American sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, but we couldn’t be happier with our purchases. And I will never, ever, ever, go to another antique store in Israel again. I promise!!!!

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puah cafe 8 rabbi yochanan st, tel aviv/yaffo 03-682-3821

mi’paam  mipaam.haifa@gmail.com  anat ben-aryah, owner   052-426-0483

vintage bonbon  9 kibbutz galyot, haifa   053-636-8599 (liraz, hannah)

 

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