“Traditional” is a word David Friedman admits is a good description of both himself, an antiques dealer, and his shop, the Susquehanna Antique Company. But he’s quick to add that in a modern marketplace exactly how tradition is defined is often subject to different interpretations.
One thing that’s clear is that antiques are a tradition in Friedman’s family. His grandfather started the business in Port Deposit, MD, and his father worked as an auctioneer and used furniture salesman. “I was close to my dad, and was brought into the business at a young age. He could buy something for $10 and sell it for $15. Not everyone can do that. I inherited that from him.”
Friedman has been a dealer since the late ’70s, with the Washington incarnation of the family firm established in 1980. He’s seen Georgetown’s prominence as an antiques district wax and wane over the years, but his own O Street shop has become something of a landmark.
To enter Susquehanna Antiques is almost to go back in time, to an era when antiques dealers were neither interior designers nor merchants in home décor. Baronial-sized dining tables and Philadelphia highboys jostle for space with Continental chests and Chinese porcelains. Centuries of portraits and landscapes fill the walls and are stacked in the aisles. Up the narrow stairs is a warren of rooms with more furniture and art, as well as Friedman’s collection of more than 600 period frames. It’s exactly what an old-fashioned antiques shop should look like — a place where discoveries wait in every corner.
But old-fashioned antiques are often a harder sell in an era when a mahogany sideboard and silver tea service aren’t always part of everyone’s lifestyle. “Traditional furniture, Old Masters, and 19th-century paintings are less of a broad-based focus for people,” says Friedman. “The market is more and more diverse.”
He’s weathered that changing market by virtue of business acumen (“You need a commercial sense of things”), high standards, and a having “a knack for buying what your customers want.”
He’s also an educator for customers for whom a familiarity with antiques may not come naturally. Friedman deals in history and passion, not just objects. He emphasizes that “people want to buy something that’s been selected,” vetted not only for its beauty or utility but also for its meaning and significance.
“Standards stay the same. That’s what collecting is about,” he says. And that just may be one definition of tradition on which everyone can agree.
Susquehanna Antique Company
3216 O St.
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