Roberta Franzheim, owner of Augustus Paris Antiques, on the theatre of antique selling and why top hats rock.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? “The Tucson sky is magnificent in the early morning. I wish I could see more of it. I struggle to get my son Gus, who is 9, to school every morning. When I was growing up the school bus stopped and honked for me and I would jump out of bed, grab my clothes and shoes, and the bus would circle back around after a few blocks and pick me up. Having a shop has allowed me to open at a civilized 10:30 a.m., so I have found my niche.”
Favorite accessory? “A top hat. I try to find and buy one hundred year old silk or beaver top hats in their original boxes in Paris. I sell them in my shop. Whenever there is a dressy, special occasion I immediately think of what I can wear with a top hat. A fresh gardenia in the band is wonderful, especially in the middle of winter. It’s too bad men no longer wear top hats, but I like to and so does my son. They add a little je ne c’est pas quoi.”
Favorite faux pas? “Asking, ‘What do you do?’ Americans like to know pretty quickly what people do, so they can size them up and put them in an understandable socioeconomic category. The French consider this question gauche and rude. They wait for a person to reveal themselves. When people come into my shop and talk to me, I’m often tempted to ask, ‘And what do you do?’ but try and restrain myself.”
Dream customer? “Someone who comes in and suddenly appreciates what I’m trying to achieve. What I do has a theatrical element. I create a scene in which to live. I bring pieces over from Paris that are far from home. They sit and wait. When people come in and realize I have gone to a lot of trouble to bring interesting pieces to the middle of the Arizona desert, I am rewarded. When they take a piece home and it means something to them, that’s the best.”
If I weren’t a shop/boutique owner I would…“Be a writer. I would like to do the same thing with words that I do with the unique pieces I buy and sell – to express myself and create a narrative on paper. The shop is a novel, or a collection of short stories. Both come from the same place in me. I’m moving antiques and art around to create scenes and a sense of place. I work closely with people every day, which is fulfilling. Being a writer is much lonelier. It takes a certain courage.”
If I could change one thing I would…“Have done this sooner. Having a business I’m passionate about is not a job, but a way of life. It is fun. The challenges are brain twisters, and back twisters. Each day I get better at what I am doing. I’m fine tuning my eye and educating myself about history, and people. When I walk into the shop, turn on the lights and some cool music, I am home. I’m ready for the world to walk through my door.”
Visit Augustus Paris at 2522 E. Fort Lowell Rd, Tucson. Tel: 520-777-5454. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. As well as selling antiques, it features vintage accessories and jewelry.