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Antique Week

Antique gallery goes proactive in hard times

ANTIQUE WEEK, February 2009-- NEW ORLEANS - Bill Rau - owner of M.S. Rau - is not one to sit idly by. Despite that M.S. Rau has been a New Orleans landmark for nearly 100 years, Rau is not sitting in an easy chair waiting for customers to saunter into his French Quarter gallery. Not this year, anyway. In 2009, Rau is taking his show on the road. That's $45 million in antiques, fine art and jewelry; and that's coast-to-coast, with many stops in between.

DallasFallShow_0035"The days of waiting for the customer to come to us are over, at least right now," says Rau. "We're going to where the customers are. We have good things to show these people, and we're taking it to them."

Rau opened up 2009 with an appearance at the Fine Arts Dealers' Association's 14th annual Los Angeles Art Show, where he was among 175 of the country's top dealers at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

From there, he turned around and headed back to Palm Beach, F1a., for two back-to-back shows.

Needless to say, Rau is not traveling light. Paintings include the works of legendary painters Pierre-August Renoir, Claude Monet and William Bouguereau, in addition to exquisite jewelry, time-pieces, silver by Paul Storr and Paul Revere, and even such an important - and unique - piece of World War II history, a German Enigma machine.

It is, at best, infrequent that such an endeavor - in scope, value and logistics- has been undertaken.

"I don't know anyone else who is doing this," Rau says. "It's a lot of work. But, it's an adventure ... there's some risk ... but we want to expose antiques and the arts to a great number of people. And I think this is the way to do it."

Rau classified the Los Angeles show as being a "good" show; and the first Palm Beach show as "extremely good."

"On both those shows, we received a nice result for the short period," Rau said.

Bill Rau at his booth at the New York Art, Antique and Jewelry Show. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Bill Rau at his booth at the New York Art, Antique and Jewelry Show. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

However, he is quick to point out "the short period" may mean very little.

"About 14 months ago we did a show in Dubai," he said. "And it was, we thought, the worst show we had ever done. We spent $120,000 on that show and, on the last day, sold something to an exhibitor next to us and made maybe $10,000."

But, the contacts made at that show paid handsomely months later.

"So far, we have had sales of over $6 million from that show," Rau says. "It was far from the worst show we ever had ...the end of the show is not necessarily the result."

At the present time, Rau- has nine shows he plans to do this year. They're all top grade, meaning the overhead will be considerable. However, after much reasoning Rau feels comfortable taking such an approach.

"I know there's a lot of people singing the blues," he says. "But, there's always going to be an interest in antiques, especially good antiques. And there's always going to be people wanting to buy them."

While on the road, Rau is keeping his 25,000 square-foot gallery open in the French Quarter of New Orleans. M.S. Rau Antiques opened in 1912 in New Orleans and the family has weathered the "hardest economic times," Rau says.

"During my tenure over the last 27 years we have endured six significant and wide sweeping financial down turns," Rau recently wrote in the Western Art & Architecture magazine. "... the oil and gas crash that affected Louisiana and Texas in 1985; the stock market crash in the late 1980s; the real estate correction in the early 1990s; the crash; the complete economic showdown following 9-11; and, what I think was our most difficult period, recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The key in our business is to stay positive, keep advertising and continue to push until it all passes."

By staying true to his formula, Rau continues to push for a business - and an avocation - he believes in; not only during the good times, but also the bad. "I think there's still a lot of money out there," he says. "I think it's one of the best times to buy. Bottom line is, I think that art and antiques represent a good place to keep your money... and, at the same time, they give a pleasure that can be appreciated day in and day out."


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