By June Mathews
Celebrating the past comes naturally to Bonny Hanna Picard. It’s been her business for 40 years.
The founder and president of Hanna Antiques, Picard has long lived her passion through buying, selling and often restoring treasures from bygone eras. Still in her 20s when in 1979 she established a small furniture refinishing business in an oversized building on Magnolia Avenue, she used the extra space to start an antique mall. And the rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.
But the seeds that grew into a favorite for local antique lovers actually were planted elsewhere.
“I was working in Memphis and would come home a lot because I was lonely and didn’t have many friends there,” said Picard, who grew up in Center Point. “On one of my trips home, I bought an old floor lamp, took it back to Memphis, tried to strip it and made a mess.
“Up the street from where I lived were four little shotgun houses that were antique and refinishing shops. So I took the lamp to one of those and asked the old man there to refinish it. He said, ‘Heck no, you do it yourself,’ and he showed me how. After that, I went home, put on some old clothes and got to work.”
In the coming months, the old man, who Picard called Uncle Bill, taught her how to repair, clamp, glue and refinish old furniture. In return, she cooked vegetables for him on Sundays.
“I later quit my job and moved back to Birmingham, intending to go back to school. But that just wasn’t my forte,” Picard said.
So she rented an apartment in an old Cliff Road mansion and, with her landlord’s permission, began refinishing furniture in the basement. To help make ends meet, she got a job waiting tables at a downtown restaurant at night.
“I would hand out my cards and talk with people at the restaurant about my refinishing business,” she said. “In fact, it was one of my customers who mentioned seeing a ‘for rent’ sign on a 10,000-square-foot building on Magnolia Avenue, and that’s how I wound up there for 10 years.”
Hanna Antiques moved to its current 7th Avenue location in 1989.
Starting out, Picard sold everything she owned – including her prized Datsun 280ZX sports car – to pay for a stripping tank, a compressor and tools, and she set up shop as The Final Finish. Before long, a customer who was a dealer at a Huntsville antique mall suggested that Picard put the spare space in her cavernous quarters to similar use, and the business became Hanna Antiques.
“The antique mall concept was something new to Birmingham, and people really gravitated to it quickly,” Picard said. “Over the years, I’ve had dealers do so well that they started their own antique stores.”
A Family Affair
Picard readily credits much of her early success to the willingness of family members and friends to help. Her parents and sister worked at the store for free and were also dealers. And when she married Sandy Picard, he came to work at the store, too.
The two would travel to England several times a year to hunt for furniture and smaller items to ship back to the store, and her husband particularly enjoyed discovering the history of things they bought.
In the late 1990s, both Picard’s husband and mother passed away within a year of each other, leaving her to run the business by herself and raise her two children, Lily and John.
The kids grew up in the store and developed an appreciation for the quality of antiques, many of which they now have in their own homes. And these days, John is making his own living in antiques by conducting estate and moving sales.
“He’s got the bug bad, just like his dad and me” his mother said.
But she sees major differences in the antiques world her son is starting in as opposed to the one she took on 40 years ago.
“The internet has changed everything,” she said. “It’s expanded our knowledge about collectibles and their value, and it’s given us the ability to sell online. But even though some customers go on the internet to make purchases, the physical hunt will always be more fun.”
The types of goods bought and sold, said Picard, is changing, too.
“Baby boomers are downsizing, so I’m getting a lot of merchandise that way, but many of the younger generation don’t want their parents’ antiques or hand-me-downs,” she said. “They like the simpler look as seen on HGTV and in the decorating magazines. But I’m starting to see more young couples who are first time homebuyers, pushing little ones in strollers and purchasing furniture, rugs and chandeliers.”
Hanna Antiques rents space to 100 antique dealers in a two-story, 27,000-square-foot building. In addition to booth space, 39 showcases display a vast array of jewelry and collectibles. Styles range from French and English to country and mid-century modern.
“I have a lot of out-of-towners who come to UAB, and they’re amazed that I still have the old stuff – and that it is good stuff. People are really put off by all the brand-new merchandise that has filtered into other antique stores,” Picard said.
“To me, this is not just work; it’s fun, and I still love it to this day,” she said. “Looking back, I can hardly believe it’s been 40 years.”
Visit Hanna Antiques at 2424 7th Ave. South, Birmingham, or call 323-6036. For more information, go to www.hannaantiques.com.