The name is, of course, slightly misleading. Most of the items at the Antique Guild in Santa Ana are not antiques. Many of the pieces do look old, however, and shoppers don't seem to give a hoot anyway.
In 1966, when pharmacy owner Don Guild decided to use a few antiques to dress up a display of giftware in one of his drugstores, he didn't expect the old pieces to draw more customers than the new. But when shoppers were more interested in buying his antiques than they were his gifts, Guild decided to branch out. He headed for Europe to buy antiques.
His European pieces were shipped to a warehouse to be sold in his drugstores, and, as customers clamored for more, he leased 25,000 square feet of the enormous old Helms Bakery in Culver City. That location soon grew to seven acres and became the first Antique Guild--and the largest retail antique store in the country.
Things have changed radically for the Antique Guild since then. In 1986, Guild sold the company to A.A. Importing of St. Louis, which quickly opened six new stores. There are now 13 Antique Guilds: including the two in Orange County, there are nine in California, three in Arizona and one in Atlanta.
The original Antique Guild at the old bakery is still the largest of the chain, although it has been whittled down to about a third of its former size.
When the Santa Ana store opened on Dyer Road in 1977 it stretched over 1 1/2 acres, filled with many antiques and some reproductions. Now at only about half its original retail space, the store houses far more reproductions than genuine antiques. The inventory mix now is approximately 60% new to 40% old, with 70% of the sales rung up in reproductions.
"We are leaning toward reproductions to keep ahead of the competition," says Debe Webb, manager of the Santa Ana store, who adds that customers seem to prefer the new things. "We want to stay with the antiques, though, because it makes us more individualized."
Many of Don Guild's original merchandising techniques have survived time and the acquisition by A.A. Importing, however. Antiques are still purchased by European buyers--dealers who live overseas and can afford to stick around to haggle for the best price. Most of the antiques still hail from Belgium, France, England and Scotland, and few of the pieces are dated.
Even at half its original size, the Santa Ana Antique Guild is large: 3,500 square feet of retail space filled with furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, prints and bric-a-brac. Offsetting the industrial carpet and exposed beams are makeshift French doors, draperies and cozy couch arrangements that lend a homey touch to the cavernous warehouse.
The majority of Antique Guild items, at both the Santa Ana store and the smaller shop in Orange, are of the cutesy-country variety. Ruffled cushions, country prints and pine cupboards are in abundance. Also prominent are oak dining sets, roll-top desks, oak entertainment centers and buffet tables.
For traditionalists, Antique Guild has all the trimmings: brass planters and umbrella stands, weather vanes, "French country" floral fabrics, Early American plaids, ceramic geese, silk plants and framed prints of country life.
More eye-catching are the antique European wardrobes and sideboards, old cherry plant stands and marble-top night tables. The store has shelves of antique tea sets, old brass plaques, inlaid wooden boxes and ancient-looking mirrors and wall hangings.
Webb says the reproductions are ordered from approximately 30 to 40 different manufacturers, including Guild Hall, Mark Anthony Dino and Burton James. If customers don't find what they want on the floor, they can order it from catalogues.
A decorator is available to work with customers in their homes to plan room decors and furniture arrangements. Most of the reproductions on the floor are samples; copies are either ordered from manufacturers or shipped from the company's Compton warehouse for a $40 delivery charge. The antiques are delivered directly from the store.
Here is a sampling of the Santa Ana Antique Guild offerings this week: new brass weather vane, $79; new cherry men's valet, $39; new cherry blanket racks, $49, and new oak entertainment center with leaded glass doors, $1,599. Also among the new items: traditional upholstered chairs for under $200, Victorian park benches, $230, and ticking stripe sofas, $1,565.
Among the antiques are a Scottish mahogany corner cabinet, $1,368; English oak wardrobe, $438; Scottish oak chaise lounge, $769; English oak sideboard, $338; and a Belgian oak dining table with six chairs, $2,188.
COUNTY ANTIQUE GUILDS AT A GLANCE
SANTA ANA: 1801 Dyer Road (714) 261-1414.
ORANGE: 255 N. Tustin Ave. (714) 633-7850.
Hours for both stores: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.