Judy Adnepos leaned over one of the vendor tables at the Rochester Public Market's Garage Sale looking through jewelry, dishes, old blankets, and cut glass.
"I'm not looking for anything in particular, but I was hoping to find one of those old children's rocking horses," she says. "You know, the ones that sort of bounce. But I like everything. There was a guy up there that had 100 card table chairs. They were just wonderful. I wanted them all, but I only bought six. I am a classic purveyor of kitsch," she laughs.
"Milk bottles and signed aluminum ware, the trays and dishes. I also like McCoy pottery," says Mike Gage, showing off one of his finds. He and his wife are new to the area. And Julie Verdon says she really comes for the atmosphere more than the antiques.
"I don't really collect anything. I buy a few things to decorate our house, but I just love the people at places like this. They are so down to earth. It's so relaxing and I just love coming to see what they have out on the tables," she says.
Ask most antique lovers and they'll probably tell you there isn't a better time of year for treasure hunting than summer. The weather doesn't get in the way of taking day trips, and a lot of activity moves from the indoor shops to outdoor festivals and flea markets. From Buffalo to the Finger Lakes, the options are limitless.
The season kicks off with the battle of the Sunday fleas. Flea markets differ from antique sales and festivals because they are a lot more eclectic --- usually not all antiques --- but not as pedestrian as garage sales, which tend to be used furniture and clothing. From late April to early October, the fleas attract a combination of serious dealers and non-professionals with the typical household stock of dishes, clothing, jewelry, furniture and small appliances. But a lot of nice collectibles and antiques show up at the fleas, too.
Locally, the Rochester Public Market and the Avon Flea Market are worth hitting, but the biggest flea by far is Clarence just outside Buffalo. Get there early because the dealers make their rounds just as folks are setting up their tables. The first Sunday of the month, it's anything goes --- no long-term space contracts are required. So people come from all over Niagara and Erie counties for the day with carloads of stuff to sell. There's no question --- this is where to find the best deals before they end up in a shop window or on eBay.
But if you're not the flea market type and don't feel like wading through the bad to find the good, shows may be the better way to go. Antique shows are generally filled with serious dealers. The fees involved for exhibit space can be a little steep, so dealers often display the best of their collections. And since there is usually an admission fee, shows tend to attract buyers instead of browsers.
Brimfield is the granddaddy of all the northeast shows, and even though it's a hike to western Massachusetts, it's worth including it in a trip to Adirondack country or Boston. Every summer there are three shows; the remaining upcoming dates are July 14-15 and September 8-9. Brimfield attracts thousands of vendors, so plan on spending at least one day. Closer to home is the Oaks Corners Show (north of Geneva) on July 1, and the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show (near Syracuse) on August 19-20.
For those people who still enjoy indoor shops, the Upstate New York region is home to hundreds of quality shops and antique malls. For collectors of everything from Roycroft to Weller, there's probably a shop that caters to you. Pick up a Sunday Driver Directory, a nifty foldout map of antique shops throughout the state. Most shops carry them, or go to www.sundaydriver.com. It's an easy way to plan your route so you can hit several shops in one outing. Nearby, you'll find "antique alley" along routes 5 and 20 in the Canandaigua and Farmington neck of the woods. The villages of Clarence and Angelica have also made antique shops their primary retail attraction.
One long-time shop owner, Ellen Engelbrecht of Antique Emporium, says this year's tourist season started a few weeks early.
"We're already seeing people coming from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada. We were a little concerned because of the gas prices, but this is a passion for some people and it's the way they enjoy spending their free time," she says.
Engelbrecht says she is seeing a lot more buyers for collectibles than real antiques. "People are buying at the high end and the very low end, and it's the unusual stuff. We had this brass surveyor's compass, for example, from the 1800s, and that went for a couple hundred dollars. It's old, but it's really more of a collector's item."
She says her rule of thumb for people just getting into antiques is to buy quality.
"I've always liked my Victorian furniture, early glass and some silver, but I buy quality and I have never been burned. It's something of value, sort of like an investment, and good pieces hold their value," she says.
But good pieces cost good money. And that's where haggling can in --- sometimes. Venues vary at how much room there is for negotiating a price. Antique shop keepers are not so different from other retailers. They have overhead. They also have money tied up in the items they are selling. And antiques don't have an expiration date like seasonal merchandise. Time is on their side. Most shop owners will budge a little on price if cash is offered in lieu of credit cards, and a lot of shop owners will take 10 percent off from the marked price when asked. Sometimes dealers who have things on consignment may know the owner will "do better on the price."
Flea markets are much more conducive to haggling with sellers. Often the vendors aren't professionals and they would rather sell the item instead of packing it up and hauling it back home. Try asking what their lowest possible price would be if you paid cash --- no checks and no thinking it over.
But the surest way to getting a good deal is first having some sense of what the item is worth. Almost everything imaginable has a collector base, and there are hundreds of sources for researching origins, manufacturers, dates of production, identification marks and prices. Start with your local library or check the Web to go in as educated as possible.
Antiques & Design Show November 5-6; Turning Stone Casino, Verona; 315-638-1329; www.loweryenterprises.com
Antiques in Schoharie September 16-17; DepotLaneCenter, I88 Exit 23, Schoharie; 518-295-7505
Brimfield Antiques & Collectibles Shows July 14-15, September 8-9; off Route 20, Brimfield, Massachusetts; 413-245-3436, 978-597-8155; www.jandj-brimfield.com
Hamburg Antiques Show & Sale October 6-7; off South Park Avenue, south of Buffalo; 716-649-9232
Madison-Bouckville Antiques Show August 19-20; off Route 20, Bouckville; 315-824-2462; www.bouckvilleantiqueshows.com
Oaks Corners Antique
Show July 1; County Road 6, north of Geneva; 315-548-2848
Odessa Antique Show August 12-13; Odessa Fairgrounds, Odessa, Ontario; 613-283-5270
Perth Antique Show July 1-2; Royal Canadian Legion Hall, Perth, Ontario; 613-283-5270
SaltCity Autumn Antiques Show October 21-22; Center of Progress Building, NYS Fairgrounds, Syracuse; 315-824-2462; www.bouckvilleantiqueshows.com
Trumansburg Antique Show& Sale July 11; First Presbyterian Church of Ulysses, Main Street, Trumansburg
Yates County Antique Show & Sale August 26; Yates County Fairgrounds, off Route 14A, south of Penn Yann; 315-536-3111; www.yatesny.com