Ackerman's Antiques in Iowa City launched when its founder was 15

'They're buying memories'

Bill Ackerman is photographed in his barn full of antiques in Iowa City on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Ackerman started his business in 1969 in the home his grandparents built in 1911. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Bill Ackerman is photographed in his barn full of antiques in Iowa City on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Ackerman started his business in 1969 in the home his grandparents built in 1911. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Bill Ackerman was sitting in the kitchen of his family’s Iowa City home one recent morning when he was asked about trends in the area’s antiques market.

“Pick on something around here,” said Ackerman, glancing about the room — like the rest of the house, decorated and furnished with items from a lifetime of collecting and dealing — before rapping his knuckles on the kitchen table.

“Round oak table,” he said. “They’re half (the going price) what they used to be, I don’t know why. Everyone needs a table.”

Ackerman, 62, has tracked the ups and downs of interest in Americana and antiques for going on a half-century.

“You’ve got to watch all the different areas, all the different eras of collecting,” he said.

Neighbors from Ackerman’s Iowa City childhood sparked the passion that became a livelihood for himself, wife Karen and their three children.

“They were huge antique collectors,” he said. “That’s how I got into it, through them. I have a vague recollection of taking some things down to the antique shop our friends had, and they sold it for me.”

By 1969, when he was just 15, he’d launched Ackerman’s Antiques.

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He has a fair-sized barn filled with stock at his home across the street from the University of Iowa campus. But he doesn’t maintain a shop, dealing instead with other dealers and through the flea markets he organizes.

“You buy it and sell it and roll it over, keep it moving,” said Ackerman, who also conducts tag sales and appraises antiques for banks, insurance companies and other collectors.

As a sideline, Ackerman manages a couple family-owned properties. But antiques account for most of his time and energy.

“I do other things, but this is what I wanted to do,” he said. He figures that’s the case for most of collectors and dealers.

“I would guess most people aren’t in it to make their bread and butter,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are in the business to do people right. You’ve got to treat them fair.”

Ackerman’s gained a following through the flea markets and weekend sales at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Ackerman took over the Kiwanis Antique Sale — March 9 and 10 this year — and the July Fourth Stars and Stripes Antique Market after their organizers faltered or were ready to retire.

Ackerman’s Iowa City Flea-tique Market, on June 10, was launched in 2014 because “we had a need for something to do in this area in May or June,” he said. “There were other flea markets around but none in Iowa City. It took off really well.”

Local Kiwanis members still pitch in on that event to raise funds for their civic projects. For the others, Ackerman calls on family and friends and a circle of regular workers — about a dozen for each flea market.

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“Nobody works for free,” he said. “We pay the help, and we get excellent help. We have people directing traffic, parking lot attendants to help the dealers when they get there.

“It’s not a one-man show — it’s lots of good help.”

Ackerman estimates he conducts six to eight tag sales a year, most for families clearing a home after the death of a collector.

“It’s the way to clean out a house if you’ve got good things,” he said. “It makes you feel good, and hopefully you can make a few bucks doing it. You don’t make the money, you earn the money.”

All that activity allows Ackerman to keep an eye on demand among buyers and sellers. He’s always preferred household items from the 1880s through the 1920s.

“The things I started dealing with when I first started dealing are fewer and far between,” he said.

“They’ve been all picked up — all the good, old estates have sold out from that era. So if you find a good estate with things from the 1880s-1920s, it’s someone’s great-grandparents’.”

What Ackerman calls “collectibles” have been hot lately.

“Items that are not true antiques, but people want them as a memory of their childhood or how they grew up,” he said. “This comic book, or ‘My dad had one of those’ or this toy from the ’50s. You collect what you relate to, and every dealer out there relates to something different.”

Ackerman has a philosophy about his buyers’ interest.

“An antique dealer never sells anything someone absolutely needs,” he said. “There’s a difference between needs and wants. They’re buying wants, and thank heaven they do.

“They’re buying memories, they’re buying nostalgia.”

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l Know a business in operation for more than a year that would make a neat “My Biz”? Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com

AT A GLANCE

l Owner: Bill Ackerman

l Business: Ackerman’s Antiques and Estate Tag Sale Service

l Address: Local flea markets and tag sales

l Phone: (319) 430-3737

l Website: None (“That may be coming.”)

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