Fitzgerald, with husband David at their store in Overbrook, which is part of their estate liquidation business.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
Wharton Small Business Development Center
Length of service:
Runs an estate liquidation firm; collects European porcelain and Brilliant Period cut glass.
Chioma Fitzgerald will come into your home and take away all the furniture, pictures and knick-knacks you and your loved ones hold dear, and you'll pay her for it too. For 10 years Fitzgerald and her husband have been in the liquidating business, buying up complete estates in Philadelphia and New Jersey and selling them to private buyers or showing them at antique shows. They've also added some of the finer antiques to their own collection.
Fitzgerald had worked in both the Graduate School of Fine Arts and HUP before settling into her current post last July in Wharton's Small Business Development Center. The SBDC matches MBA students with local businesses to provide marketing and financial planning advice. "I like being in an environment that supports what I do, while I support what they do," Fitzgerald said.
Q. What were you doing that qualified you to go into antiques?
A. Essentially, we had a card and gift shop in West Philadelphia. In the midst of our selling out and getting ready to close the business we found that we could sell a number of things we had in the store very quickly through flea markets and auctions. That's how we got introduced to the whole idea of liquidating stuff.
Then we started going into people's homes and liquidating the contents of their home and dropping [them] off at auction or at flea markets and selling them. Consequently, the card and gift shop did turn into a furniture-sort of thrift shop.
Q. Did you have any interest in antiques that preceded this?
A. Yes, definitely. As we started going into people's homes, we'd find some things, some hidden treasures in the midst of liquidating their households. We started to have more of an interest in nicer European porcelain and cut glass along with small, decorative pieces of furniture. From that avenue we started collecting more and doing antique shows all up and down the coast, displaying our wares.
Q. Do you ever sell items from your own collection?
A. We do show items in our own collection. Our own collection is sort of ever-evolving. What happens is people may see us at a show and then two or three weeks later, a month later, they may ask us if we still have that particular item.The other aspect of what we do is that we have a clientele list that we distribute items to once we get them out of people's households. So if we get a call - one time we got a call from someone who had an old sled, like a carriage you would ride horses on. We actually found a dealer in South Jersey who deals in that particular type thing.
We had an estate in Wildwood one time, the father had passed away, but he owned a Rolls-Royce. That Rolls-Royce we connected with a guy out in Wayne who traded in vehicles.
Q. You keep saying 'we.'
A. It's my husband David, David Fitzgerald, he's my partner. David is sort of the creative energy behind this; I handle the bookkeeping end. He's the expert on cut glass so I listen to his spiel and then know what to say to other people.
Q. Do you have people who call you up who think they have great cut glass but it's really a saucer from the late '60s?
A. People often gauge things by how old they are - "Oh I've had them since I was 13!" We had this woman call one time who said she had this old glassware, her grandmother gave them to her mother and so on and so forth. So we go in and look at her fine glassware and they're like tumblers from the '40s. We get that all the time.
Once we went out to a house where the couple was in the midst of a divorce. The woman walked us from room to room reminiscing about each room and what it meant. And we had her children in the other room saying, "Mommy, don't sell that stuff." It was so horrible, so awkward. We actually had to come back when the children weren't there because it was just too upsetting.
Q. Do you find it hard to let go of certain objects?
A. It is. We deal in Brilliant Period cut glass, which is glass between 1860 and 1910 - American Brilliant Period. That's what we try to collect. The bigger the pieces the better because they are so hard to find in good condition.
Q. How big is 'bigger'?
A. Right now we have a two-piece punch bowl, but they are so difficult to find because they didn't last very long. Your usual types of things, like vases, are so common. Things that are unusual in shape or form, that's what we're looking for.
Q. Do you have some aversion to furniture?
A. Actually the furniture part of what we deal with is more of a setting to create an atmosphere for the show and put the pieces of cut glass on. Just to add a decorative touch.
Originally published on April 1, 1999