In With the Old
Vintage-Hunting in the Countryside
The notion of "antiquing" in quaint outskirt towns might seem like a bit of a cliché. It does tend to conjure up images of a Sunday afternoon spent rummaging around bins of old photographs, trying on estate jewelry and looking for that perfect mid-century hallway bench. Some might say such activity is best left to the ladies in fanny packs.
Yet antiques have taken on a whole new place in our culture. Now partnered with the green movement of recycling goods and appreciating local markets, having a piece of the past adorning one's home or office has become a requirement for stylish decor. A modern kitchen without reclaimed tins and crates for storage? Unheard of. And where would the new metal bed from CB2 be without the oil portrait circa 1932 hanging above it?
So it's not exactly a unique notion to spend weekends choosing from history's glorious remains. What breathes whole new life into the activity, however, is throwing antiquing into the frenetic culture of the fast approaching Black Friday.
Black Friday. Those two little words strike fear and dizziness into the hearts of holiday shoppers everywhere. Just watching those department store commercials surrounding Thanksgiving is cause for high blood pressure. Three floors of anxiety-ridden super-shoppers with armfuls of swag and hearts full of vengeance are enough to make the most focused and determined of us assume the fetal position. When did a loving, thoughtful tradition become grouped into the category of dreaded annual events like dentist appointments and tax season?
It happened right around the time large corporate chain stores decided to turn the process of shopping – at its best a slow, thoughtful, even cathartic process with lunch scheduled somewhere in the middle – into competition. Mark-ups then mark-downs are planned to reel in rowdy crowds for that terrifying annual Friday. But do the gifts really mean anything? Do your in-laws really need another set of matching pajamas from Sears? It's simply not worth it.
This year, forget about it. Antique shopping is the new Black Friday.
Antique shopping requires a more heartfelt approach than clearing off a shelf of scented candles at Bed Bath & Beyond. There's a sense of quiet victory in finding a tea set for your favorite aunt. And perhaps, if you strike antique gold, she’ll turn the saucer upside down to discover it was made the same year she got married.
With the perfect gift-giving accomplished, it's okay to be a little self-serving while scooting delicately through the aisles of fragile relics. For those hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead and look for that perfect mid-century hallway bench. Who cares if it's going to be covered with coats and hats for most of the weekend? You'll be using the Victorian pie server you found as an excuse to show off your new estate ring.
Must-Browse Antique Districts
1) East Washington and Madison Streets Middleburg, Virginia With the Middleburg Antique Emporium, Hastening Antiques, Ltd., JML French Antiques and the like, downtown Middleburg is a worthy hour-long drive on 50 West for some quality relic-hunting.
2) King and Market Streets Leesburg, Virginia Historic downtown Leesburg has an impressive collection of collectibles stores tucked into its main cross streets. Its proximity to the old (and still in-use) courthouse gives shoppers a taste for Federal-style finds.
3) East Main Street/North Massanutten Street Front Royal, Virginia This town has two main neighborhoods for vintage goods. East Main Street hosts treasures like Vintage Swank and Helen's while North Massannutten is home to Strasborg Emporium, Bull Run Relics and Heirloom. Make time for both stops.
4) Caroline Street
No need to wander if antiques are the mission in Fredericksburg. Every storefront waits right on Caroline Street so it's a straight shot to places like Beck's Antiques and Books, Market Square Antiques and Picket Post.
1) South Carroll and East Patrick Streets Frederick, Maryland Downtown Frederick is easy to find from route 270...and so are the stores. The highest concentration of old goods is found at the intersection of South Carroll and East Patrick Streets, where mainstays like Cannon Hill and Old Glory await.
2) Main Street Ellicott City, Maryland This old suburb of Baltimore is like-minded to Fredericksburg in that they keep their antiques together on display. The row of vintage retailers goes in a straight line up Main Street, starting with Retropolitan, Ltd. to the west and ending with Vintage Girls to the east.
3) West Howard Avenue Kensington, Maryland The West Howard Antiques district has become something of a legend since its establishment 40 years ago. As a large tourist attraction for the town of Kensington, the area doesn't disappoint with its tiny maze of stores. Finding each address takes a little exploring, so don't ignore the alleyways and staircases.
4) Dorchester Avenue Cambridge, Maryland The Packing House, a giant warehouse situated on the Eastern shore, is a mega-mall of antique dealers – more than 100, to be exact, in the 60,000-square-foot facility.