A blue-tinted Ball jar picked up for $6 in Wildwood. A 1920s postcard of the Grove Park Inn found in Micanopy. Ten feet of decorative cherry trim unearthed at an architectural salvage warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. Divine black shoes with embroidered 3-inch heels from a Chattanooga consignment store. A $15 wooden highchair, supplied by the Salvation Army in Knoxville, Tenn. Glass milk bottles found in Boone, N.C., perfect wildflower vases and little gifts. • Thelma and Louise, meet Sanford and Son.
There are plenty of treasures to be had when two 40-something moms spend six days "junking" their way from St. Petersburg to Boone, N.C. Just to make sure we had plenty of room to haul home our finds, we rented a Dodge Stow-and-Go minivan and took out all but one passenger seat.
"This is decadent," my friend said as we headed north on Interstate 75. "We have six days before us with nothing we have to do but drive, talk, eat and shop." Well, we did have a purpose, I reminded her. She has space at Summer House Furniture, an interior design market in South Tampa where she sells refurbished finds. She paints surfboards on scrap wood, layers polyurethane on vintage metal patio furniture, enhances birdhouses with hot pink swirls and makes key hangers by adding hooks to old cabinet doors.
Summer House is at 3620 S Manhattan Ave., or you can follow our path and find neat old pieces on your own.
Traditions Antique Mall (3107 E State Road 44; (352) 748-6255) was our first stop in this Sumter County town. We saw a 6-foot-long Hav-A-Tampa cigar sign for $200 that would be a crowning touch in any Tampa kitchen or man cave. We loved a framed cross-stitch of the United States but didn't pay the $100 for it. Were I a native Floridian I probably would have sprung for the $120 hand-painted, wooden state map with all 67 counties named and outlined.
This picturesque town south of Gainesville is about two blocks long, with Spanish moss dancing between well-stocked antique stores. Stage Coach Stop (110 NE Cholokka Blvd.; (352) 466-3456) was our favorite. Doc Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox was filmed there in 1990. I mention this because the good people of Micanopy hold a fundraiser called Doc Hollywood Days every May to benefit Parkinson's research, since Fox is afflicted with the illness.
I put the iLocate's consignment store app to work and found consignment and thrift stores throughout Chattanooga. We also Googled "architectural salvage" and discovered Architectural Exchange (1300 McCallie Ave.; (423) 697-1243).
This was probably the best stop on the trip. The front room greeted us with a vintage yellow and white, lattice-back, metal patio chair priced at $24. The warehouse was full of old windows, doors, trim pieces, columns, birdbaths, signs and many more dusty bargains.
At the Ladies of Charity Resale Store (2821 Rossville Blvd.; (423) 624-3222) my friend bought an intricately carved, white twin bed with bedrails for $10. She'll paint some flourishes on it and sell it at Summer House.
But two girls on the road cannot survive on junk alone. We spent close to two hours in Encore Consignment Boutique (1150 Hixson Pike; (423) 267-0130) trying and buying designer clothes. The store takes in 100 to 200 pieces a day, many never worn. Yet the prices are more reasonable than other consignors with less selection.
We stayed with a longtime friend in "Knoxvegas," as she calls it, and she managed to take us to 20 stores in 10 hours. Highlights included Nostalgia (5214 Homberg Drive; (865) 584-0832), which is heavy on '50s and '60s decor and clothes but has a touch of all types of old stuff. Southern Market (5400 Homberg Drive; (865) 588-0274) has 40 vendors selling mostly new home decor, artwork, yard art and gifts. Friends Antiques and Collectibles (1201 N Central St.; (865) 524-3803) is a three-story maze of antiques and true junk. Our best stop was McKay Used Books (230 Papermill Place Way; (865) 588-0331). This warehouse of bargain books, movies and music is bigger than many a public library. Bestselling paperbacks and titles on any topic imaginable are priced at 5 cents and up. (There are also stores in Nashville and Chattanooga.)
There are several fun antique and vintage clothing stores in downtown Asheville. I fell in love with a cocktail tray shaped like a captain's wheel at Lexington Park Antiques (65 W Walnut St.; (828) 253-3070), which has 90 vendors. A local had told us to check out Willow's Dream (210 Merrimon Ave.; (828) 225-5922). It's a hair salon in a 100-year-old historic home that has an eclectic selection of clothes, jewelry and art. I picked up a great kaleidoscope-colored maxidress.
I found the best Christmas present my son will ever receive at Antiques on Howard (199 Howard St.; (828) 262-1957). There are more than 30 dealers in 6,000 square feet and great variety and prices. I paid $21 for a copy of a 1973 Hank Aaron baseball card. (He's not a collector, just a 7-year-old who loves the game and Hammerin' Hank, so even a copy will thrill him to no end.)
Each piece I bought along the way had a life and a story before it became mine. I guess that's why I have this weird attraction to old stuff. Of course, the main attraction is the treasure hunt itself.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg.