Behind the Business: Dalton’s American Decorative Arts
By Alexandra Fisher
Since 1980 Dalton’s American Decorative Arts has established itself as an unparalleled resource for original Arts and Crafts furnishings and decorative accessories. Under the direction of Dalton’s founder David Rudd, carefully selected examples of original condition furniture, pottery, art and metalwork are offered for both beginning and experienced collectors both in Upstate New York and across the country thanks to their freshly updated website www.daltons.com. David Rudd and Debbie Goldwein are the principals of Dalton’s and equally share the responsibilities of operating this unique gallery. I had the pleasure of speaking with them about the ins and outs of owning and operating Dalton’s and I’m excited to share our conversation with you about this thriving Arts and Crafts business!
As a small business owner myself, I’m always curious about how other businesses came to be. “I’m often asked if I purchased an existing business; I didn’t. We opened when I was 27 and our space was about 500 square feet.” Dave shared. “The building we are in was still a neighborhood drug store that had a small store for rent on the west side of the building. That was in 1981.” By 1983 they had their first exhibition; The Photography of Edward Curtis. And by 1990 they had taken over the entirety of the 3,000 square foot building and purchased it shortly after. They slowly rehabbed it and made it into what customers see today when they walk through the front door –more of a gallery experience than an antiques shop.
Having had the pleasure of getting to know David and Debbie through my work with the National Arts & Crafts Conference, I had always been curious about the choice of business name so I figured now was a great time to find out. “Dalton is my middle name and a family name and I thought it sounded better than Rudd’s.” David shared. (I think we can all agree, Dalton’s has a bit more panache…) Dave continued by happily saying, “Dalton is also the middle name of our first grandchild!”
And speaking of family, I’m always fascinated when I see successful businesses being run by couples, mostly because I couldn’t imagine both living and working with my partner (I’ll be the first to admit I have control issues…). But that doesn’t seem to be the case for David and Debbie. “I would say it works out great however we have our days.” David said. “Deb handles all of the financial stuff, I take care of buying and we both sell.” Debbie chimed in, “We basically concentrate on our own areas of the business, which helps us from stepping on each others’ toes. But It also helps that Dave travels a bit!” No doubt, a break every now and then is always welcomed.
When asked about what has been their greatest Arts and Crafts antiques purchase or discovery, David was a bit stumped.
“I have to think about this. We have had some very nice pieces over the years.” I was expecting to hear about a rare sideboard or leather-top table but David’s answer surprised me. “In the early 80’s I was given a Xerox copy of several, early Gustav Stickley catalogs.” Xerox copies? Talk about antiques! David continued, “It was a few years before the catalogs were published and I’ve often felt that gave me a bit of a head start. Through these I was able to identify early tile table designs and other intriguing forms.”
With this knowledge about David it came as no surprise to me that his advice for new Arts and Crafts collectors was this, “Read all you can, visit museums and exhibitions, and if you’re invited to see collections, go.” There’s nothing better than an educated collector. And Debbie agreed adding, “Ask questions about what you’re purchasing. Take time to find the right pieces, which may mean buying a piece at a time because of the expense and availability.” Fantastic advice for ANY collector.
Since I met David and Debbie via the National Arts & Crafts Conference I had to ask which they preferred, running a store front or doing antiques shows. Without hesitation, David responded, “I would absolutely choose a storefront and so would my back!” Indeed, the long, labor-intensive hours of an antiques show are tough but David and Debbie both had fond memories of their years exhibiting in shows across the country. “…you get to meet so many different people over a single weekend.” Debbie said. Though, at the end of the day, their gallery is their home. “If we just did shows, things would sit in a truck or warehouse until the next time it was unpacked.” David added. “But having the gallery allows me to ‘live’ with the pieces even if it’s just for a short time.”
Indeed, their unique gallery-style store front is a treat for any Arts and Crafts collector. If you find yourself in the Syracuse area, be sure to stop in and say hello to David and Debbie. And if you’re unable to make it, you can happily shop from your couch by visiting their fantastic, newly-updated online gallery at www.daltons.com!
They added, “We would both like to thank everyone who has been a part of our business for all these years and we hope to see or hear from you in the coming years.” And I’d like to thank David and Debbie for their time. It’s been a pleasure.
David is currently a regular contributor to American Bungalow magazine, president of the Central New York Arts and Crafts Society and sits on the board of trustees of The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ. He is also available for buying, selling and appraising single items to entire collections. In her role as CFO, Debbie ensures stable operation of the gallery on a daily basis and contributes to Dalton’s esteemed position as one of the most trusted and experienced sources for Arts and Crafts objects in America.