After running an antique and art appraisal business online for a few months, Glenn Spellman made a rare move in pandemic-stricken New York City: He opened up a physical store.
That bet paid off so far, his business flourishing with calls to appraise and collect antiques left by seniors who died from Covid-19. The doors to his modest, eclectic gallery opened in the Upper East Side last month, bucking the trend in a city that has seen more empty storefronts as small businesses shutter under the weight of the Covid-19 crisis.
“I’ve never been busier,” said Spellman, 54, as he sat on an antique chair in his long and narrow store surrounded by old photos, paintings, and sculptures. “Right now, I am just working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Spellman’s business shows the depth of the city’s losses, especially among the elderly, as the Empire state recorded more than 33,000 deaths, almost twice as many as the next highest state fatality tally. Like him, appraisers across the greater New York City area have seen a recovery in business, according to Cynthia D. Herbert, who recently ended her term as the president of Appraisers Association of America.
Business has “picked up quite dramatically” since July, she said, as the tri-state area began opening up. “For a while, you couldn’t go to living facilities. Those estates had to wait, because you couldn’t let people in.”
Unlike Spellman, though, few have taken the bold step of opening up a new store.
At least four to five clients every month since June have been family members of Covid-19 victims — all with a similar profile of an elderly living alone, Spellman said, making it impossible for relatives to say goodbye in person due to travel restrictions. The actual number of clients who are appraising items left by coronavirus victims is probably higher because some didn’t disclose the cause of death — and Spellman didn’t pry.
“There’s a tremendous amount of estates,” he said. “Almost all the big jobs I’ve done in the last four months have been Covid-related. This is a good time to be in the business.”
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A typical appraisal would include a walkthrough of the deceased’s home with his client, digging through every drawer, closet, and even underneath the bed — because that’s where jewelry is often hidden. The inspections usually take three to four hours. He charges about $100 to $150 per hour for written appraisals. If the client wants to sell the items to him directly, he would drop the role of an appraiser and make offers for them as an antique and art dealer.
Last month, with the worst of the protests over and the city starting to reopen, he finally opened his store, Spellman Gallery, in the Yorkville neighborhood where he’s lived for 31 years. New Yorkers are also moving from the city to the suburbs, increasing the number of items for him to appraise or sell, he said.
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York before moving to the Big Apple, he had dreamed of opening up his own place ever since he spent his first week in the city knocking on the doors of galleries along Madison Avenue to find a job. Three decades later, he’s saved enough for a store, where he buys and sells items ranging from $10 necklaces to an old Snoop Dogg T-shirt, Boy Scouts pins, to paintings worth thousands of dollars.
In most Covid-related cases, the families are anxious to liquidate the estate to help pay expensive legal and tax bills, after months of lockdown-induced delays. Some are rushing to divide the proceeds among household members.
Business has been so good that Spellman said he didn’t have to resort to a government loan of up to $86,500 that he had qualified for, and also didn’t ask for rent deduction.
“I’m doing a lot of house calls — people seem to enjoy it, there’s a lot of color here, a lot of fun items,” he said. “Good things come out of bad things all the time.”