Although the madhouse that is the Target toy department argues otherwise, this Christmas seems determined to be known as The One Where Everybody Cut Back. Which makes it a convenient year to contemplate the whole idea of adding mountains upon mountains of newly manufactured toys and clothes and electronics and gewgaws to the world’s cumulative pile of Stuff That Will Eventually Wind Up in the Landfill.
Which, in turn, makes it a very good year to put antique malls at the top of your list of places to shop: You’re not adding to the pile, you’re just shuffling some of it around, and arguably keeping it out of the landfill for a little while longer.
Antique malls are also fantastic places to shop when you have no idea what you want to get someone, and/or not a whole lot of money to spend. It’s just in general a bit more adventurous than hitting the mall or the big boxes. I set out with nothing in mind for my husband last year and came home with a very manly, rough-hewn wooden tool box that had “Acme Tool Co.” stenciled on it (no Wile E. Coyote, though) and a manly-in-a-different-sort-of-way antique mug with a moustache protector across the top and the name “John” scratched into the side. He was delighted.
There’s a string of antique malls along I-30 between here and Benton, but within the Little Rock city limits, I like the Midtowne Antique Mall (Markham and Rodney Parham, by U.S. Drug) and Fabulous Finds (2905 Cantrell Road in Riverdale). At Fabulous Finds on a recent excursion:
• Probably half a dozen different sets of rooster canisters (seriously). My favorite was a five-piece wooden set ($60).
• The decanter pictured here, which I can only describe as a sort of spherical trapezoid. So much cooler than what you’ll find new at a department store.
• Several vintage art history books.
• Two miniature Ironstone tea sets ($30 and $38).
• What looked like a red jade elephant pendant ($30).
• A red and white leather Razorback purse ($35), which I date to the 1970s based on how much it looks like something my Hog-crazy grandmother would have carried when I was a kid. It won’t win any style awards, but it’s certainly one of a kind.
I made a less specific list on a trip to the Midtowne Antique Mall — which is much bigger than it looks like from the outside — but some general ideas from stuff I came across:
• Got a little girl to buy for? Skip the pre-fab Disney Princess dress-up set and round up an old suitcase full of second-hand dresses, hats and handbags. If you go for the ones that are old enough to be out of style but too new to qualify as vintage, you can do this on the serious cheap.
• For the Gen-X wife/mother/sister: Old-school Nancy Drew books. Bonus points if they’ve got someone else’s name or a date written on the inside cover.
• For that relative who goes nuts with the Christmas accoutrements: Put together a basket of vintage Christmas ornaments. One booth also had a 24-piece set of Johnson Brothers “12 Days of Christmas” china.
• For your grandfather, if it doesn’t skeeve you out, or for anyone else who’d appreciate it: One booth had a framed print of a Vargas-ish pin-up girl; another had a framed risque-for-the-times silk pin-up-girl handkerchief.
• Toys, of course — vintage as well as new-in-the-box. A Melissa and Doug princess mirror, unopened, was half what I paid for it on sale six months ago. I also saw a miniature Radio Flyer red wagon that would be perfect for a toddler to pull around the house for $10, and an old metal Snow White play refrigerator ($95).
• Other ideas: Vintage glassware or china; vintage cookbooks (these are especially fun if you can find the trendy ones from decades gone by); old sheet music, from as far back as a hundred years ago; vintage table linens or tea towels.
Happy stuff-shuffling. And be nice to those folks at Target.