By Janet K. Keeler
There are two kinds of people who come to the monthly Arcadia Antiques Fair in Arcadia, Fla. The street fair attracts those on a mission to add to their collections, and the accidental pickers who meander the lanes of dealers, waiting for something to jump out and scream, “Buy me!”
Like a 1930s carved Bakelite bangle bracelet that they didn’t know they needed, or a pair of 1950s aluminum roller skates that strap on over tennis shoes.
Maybe it’s the cardboard boxes of mismatched silver flatware that rings someone’s bell. (And the $1-each price tag.) Smoking cigarettes isn’t so fashionable these days, but a monkey ashtray is certainly a kitschy find. Those are the happy accidents that attract the lookiloos.
For the purposeful antique hunters, Arcadia’s regular fair is a spot to return to time and again in the search for an empty violin case, oil lamps to hang on walls, or even the perfect ruby red glass bowl. Not too big and not too small. The hunt is part of the experience. And for a collector, there’s always room for one (or two) more perfect pieces.
The Arcadia Antiques Fair is held on the fourth Saturday of each month, as it has been since 1995. December is a bit iffy, depending on when that fourth Saturday falls. If it’s on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, there is no fair that month.
In the busiest months, usually the winter when snowbirds return, the vendor numbers swell to more than 100. When it’s warmer, the numbers decrease but so do the crowds, making it easy to walk around and scrutinize every booth. That’s a bonus because there is so much to look at.
Old postcards that tell tales of traveling adventures; 1950s sunglasses that have improbably become cool again; stuffed animals that could use a hug (or a spot on the shelf), and industrial molds and tools that are all the rage today. Jewelry is always hot and there’s plenty of it.
Besides the outdoor vendors, about 20 antique shops line Arcadia’s Oak Street, offering more treasures to peruse. On a recent visit, there were oodles and oodles of 1950s and ‘60s Corningware bowls and baking dishes. At that time, there were likely not too many homes in America that didn’t stock these economical and versatile pieces. You’ll recognize them from the modern shapes and the pretty flowers blooming on the sides. Anyone looking to fill in the gaps in their collection, should head to Arcadia.
Arcadia, with a population just under 8,000 people, is the county seat of DeSoto County. It has the feel of an Old West town, and its center is on the National Register of Historic Places. Except for the modern cars rumbling down the main drag and visitors in ball caps and shorts, one might expect some rootin’ tootin’ cowboys to roll out of a saloon in a fighting tumble.
What Arcadia lacks in saloons, it makes up for in cowboys. The twice-a-year Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo attracts athletes from all over the country, working toward the national finals held each year in Las Vegas, Nev.
So, maybe that’s why one antique dealer is hawking gorgeously worn leather saddles.
Though Arcadia might be seemingly hidden since it’s off Florida’s busiest byways, it’s close to many cities, which makes it attractive as a day trip. Arcadia sits where state roads 70 and 17 meet, less than 60 miles from Fort Myers, Sarasota and Venice. Port Charlotte is a mere 30 miles to the west. St. Petersburg and Tampa are a bit farther at about 75 miles away, and even Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce on the state’s east coast are within day-drive distance at about 100 miles.
When you’re looking for a vintage Coca-Cola sign, no amount of driving is too much.
After several hours of antique hunting, you’ll want to stop for a bite and there are several restaurants, offering everything from a slice of pizza to ice cream cones and bagels, and shrimp and grits to cucumber sandwiches at Mary Margaret’s Tea and Biscuit, just off Oak Street. This is the place to stop for soup and sandwiches and to be served by proprietors in period costumes, including top hat and tails. It gets crowded quickly, so stop by early and put your name on the waiting list.
Just around the corner from Mary Margaret’s is Magnolia Street Seafood and Grill, where the fresh fish reminds diners they aren’t that far from the Gulf of Mexico. The hush puppies are as good as you’ll eat anywhere and if you come during Florida’s spring blueberry season, coconut blueberry bread pudding will wow you. If your timing is good, the farmer just might be sitting a few tables over.
Arcadia’s old town was heavily damaged by Hurricane Charley in 2004 and has bounced back mightily. It took months to get the antique shops back to rights, but a casual visitor or serious antique hunter won’t know the difference.
Arcadia and all those old wooden rolling pins, carnival glass bowls and World War II medals are meant to last.
If you go…
The Arcadia Antiques Fair is held on and around Oak Street on the fourth Saturday of every month. Get dates, directions and other information at the website.
The Tater Hill Antique and Collectible Show is held on the fifth Saturday of the month (usually five times a year) on and around Oak Street in Arcadia.
Magnolia Street Seafood and Grill (9 W. Magnolia St., Arcadia serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday. Magnolia’s take on shrimp and grits is one of its most popular dishes.
Mary Margaret’s Tea and Biscuit (10 S. Polk St., Arcadia) is a charming teahouse serving soups and sandwiches daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The proprietors dress in period costumes, and diners enjoy tea from flowered pots. A 1930 Model A Ford is parked out front.
Visitors who want to spend the night in Arcadia, can check out the Edwardian era Oak Park Inn (2 W. Oak St., Arcadia) in the middle of the antiques district. Rooms range from $99 to $175 a night, depending on type, location and time of year. Rates include continental breakfast.
The nearby Peace River is a popular spot for campers and paddlers. Find more information about Arcadia’s Peace River campground at www.peacerivercampground.com. The Peace River Canoe Trail is 67 miles long, starting in Fort Meade and ending near Arcadia.
The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo is held each year in March and October. The rodeo draws viewers and cowboy-athletes from all over the country and is one of the competitions that leads to the national finals held annually in Las Vegas, Nev.