Though much of the nation is mired in the ongoing housing crisis, it seems that Somerville has never been hotter and this boom has brought many new people and businesses to the city. Rex Connell, owner of The Collector at 160 Highland Ave., is one of those people. He decided to open his shop on this once-overlooked portion of one of Somerville’s main drags after realizing that the neighborhood was a good fit for his merchandise.
“It’s a good time for this business, politically and ecologically,” Connell said. “People are becoming much more aware of local businesses. There’s been a really positive response to the shop.”
Connell mostly trades in mid-century modern, vintage and industrial pieces, though The Collector has a little something for everyone. From giant chandeliers made out of tree branches and brightly patterned chairs to tiki head statues and a gorgeous wood sideboard, Connell’s pieces are unique and stylish.
Connell has been in the antiques business for decades, having inherited his interest from his father who was a dealer. Connell had previously worked at an antiques shop in Cambridge, as a cabinet maker, as a restaurant decorator and as a set mechanic in the movie business when he decided the time had come to open his own place.
“I’ve always been interested in this,” Connell said. “I want to get people in here, get them excited and away from Crate & Barrel and IKEA. This is a time-honored business it’s been around 100 years. And this is really he newest wave of this business.”
Connell said that shifting demographics have led to shifting tastes. He used to primarily deal in traditional antiques, like Victorian pieces, but now his customers are mainly interested in the mid-century modern aesthetic.
“People want something nobody else has. They want quality, not big box stores. They want a good thing,” Connell said, gesturing around his shop. “Why would you spend more for something made in China?”
Connell’s customers come from all over–Arlington, Lexington and other nearby suburbs–but mostly they come from the surrounding neighborhoods. Connell’s costumers also come from a diversity of age groups. His first customer was an 80-year-old former nurse, though he mainly sells to the under 40 crowd.
Mostly what you’ll find in The Collector are pieces that Connell himself is drawn to.
“I want to have a shop that can be eclectic and that it will work, that people get it,” Connell said. “I like modern things, industrial things, Victorian things. I only buy what I like and that’s what’s in the shop.”
Connell hunts down his treasures in a variety of places, trekking to the Brimfield Antique Fair several times a year, sometimes buying whole estates and often getting calls from other antique dealers that he knows when they find something they know he’ll like. And though the demand for mid-century modern pieces has increased and the demand for traditional antiques has decreased, Connell knows that a mix of pieces truly produces the best look, which is why he stocks a variety of styles.
“Good is good. It may not be in, but it’s still good,” Connell said. “When you have an eclectic eye, you see the quality of things, both in the design and the materials.”
Bottom line? If you shop at The Collector, “your apartment or house isn’t going to look like a Mad Men set,” Connell said.
Though The Collector isn’t in a major square, it’s conveniently located on Highland Ave., which allows patrons to park nearby while they shop. And though this area wasn’t always booming, it’s certainly taken off in the last few years. Highland Kitchen is on the next corner, M.F. Dulock is right down the street and Kickass Cupcakes recently moved some operations nearby.
“The whole strip is alive,” Connell said. “I want to make some kind of connection to the community. The community seems to be moving in a positive direction. It’s drawing the right people to this neighborhood. I’ve been really lucky in a way because it was kind of a leap of faith.”
160 Highland Ave.
Open Wednesday through Sunday noon-6 p.m. (Friday until 7 p.m. or by appointment)