|By William Flood
As an antiquer, you know it’s a good day when you get to sit down and chat with none other than Don Scott, promoter of the Scott Antique Shows. It was a fruitful meeting because I was on a quest to document that antique shows could beat the big-box retailers at their own game, even on price. Mr. Scott enthusiastically agreed I was on to something.
There’s a bit of a back-story to my mission, part of which was my local mall and shopping center refusing to even decorate for the holidays. So, with a bit of Scrooge-like vendetta, I set out on this year’s Small Business Saturday to prove that shoppers not only had better, and more heartfelt gift choices at Scott than at the ’marts and ’depots, but could even stuff a stocking just as economically.
I had one rule governing the quest. Items had to be priced no more than $5 and no negotiation could be involved to meet the price objective. The outcome was clear - the Scott show, like so many across the country - beat Wal-Mart, beat Five Below...heck, even beat the dollar store not only in terms of offering truly unique gift items but squarely on price as well.
Mr. Scott was enthusiastic about the number of vendors - over 1,200 from multiple states and even a couple of foreign countries. He was also keen on the values at this year’s event, acknowledging that vendor pricing was modest and shoppers were flocking to the noticeable values. Right off, he mentioned that many vendors were offering vintage Christmas decorations starting at $1 each and some had shoppers lined up 40 deep on the show’s first day to grab the best pieces.
Dollar items were not limited to Christmas decor. Root-till-you-find-it dollar tables offering everything from costume jewelry to old keys were plentiful, often eagerly shopped by young gift buyers. But, dealers also prominently displayed items despite their $1 price tags. A single dollar would buy a chrome stand for hanging those vintage ornaments, any of three beautiful ironwood owls, or an interesting piece of personal correspondence bearing a military base postmark from the 1960s.
If you were willing to part with a pair of dollar bills, one dealer had Pittsburgh railway tokens and another had bronze souvenir pencil sharpeners for $2 each. For the observant, there was an impressive 12” carved wood eagle that was, indeed, just $2. For the Christmas baker, heavy-gauge cookie cutters from the 50s - ones that will last many generations - could be had for barely more than dollar store pricing.
Not willing to jump immediately to a five-spot, I wanted to see what one could purchase in the $3-$4 range. Vinyl records, a hot item right now, started around $3, although some were available for less. Petrified wood slabs for the mineral collector were available for $3. Four dollars would snag bullet pencils, great for the advertising collector. For the mathematically inclined, there were items like a 60s-era mechanical calculator or a vintage slide rule.
Things got really interesting at $5. A chrome turtle would wow the mid-century lover. Glass enthusiasts would certainly appreciate a Viking amber candy dish. You could deck the ephemera-lovers walls with B&O Railroad stock certificates (available 2 for $5) and for the automobilia enthusiast, there were Ford glass contractor identification pins. The advertising collector on your list would be delighted by a Holiday Inn ashtray or any of a number of brands of root beer mugs.
Ok, so there were plenty of $1 items...and $5 would put a great piece under anyone’s tree. But, could you really beat the dollar store? Hands down! Old playing cards, including NIB sets from former airlines, 50-cents each. Antique linens and doilies were also available for 50-cents. Casino tokens and other interesting scrip, 3/$1. And, back to those vintage ornaments - some were marked as low as a quarter!
So, next Holiday season, if avoid the temptation to fatten Wall Street corporate wallets and further the cycle of cheap imported goods that end up in the landfill. Instead, put on the brakes and head to your nearest antique event and shop Main Street instead. You’ll find timeless items that make a memorable gift; you’ll help support local business; and, in the end, your wallet will be just as well off.
The next Scott event is December 21 & 22 at the Ohio Fairgrounds in Columbus. The 2020 season starts on January 25. The event is free. Parking is $5.