Walnut: Antiques City
Antiques-hunting is not a dead sport! I worry about this occasionally: How do small-town antiques shops stay in business during economic downturns and, more importantly, with eBay hogging all the good stuff?
Walnut, Iowa, has figured it out. For one thing, it’s a one-stop-shopping experience for all things antique. There are about 20 stores lining Walnut’s “Antique City Drive” offering everything from furniture to vintage to junk to high-end collectibles. Plus, if you check out this website and click on “antiques shops” you’ll see a list – with links to eBay. It’s the best of both worlds.
But why shop on eBay when you can walk the brick streets of Walnut, enjoy the historic architecture, poke through store after store (some of which seem to go on for miles), smell that wonderful musty fragrance, and talk to business owners and other shoppers?
I’d been to Walnut a couple of times before, and I was hoping that it was still a thriving antiques town, even with the recently tough economy. I know that I definitely don’t buy as many antiques as I used to – because, let’s face it, nobody NEEDS old stuff. We just like it.
But I spent the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Walnut, and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only are the shops flourishing, I think there’s more of a variety.
I started with Kelly Reed Antiques on the north end of downtown. I was mainly drawn to this shop by its crazy number of yard ornaments; I honestly thought the store would be sort of scary. But it was a surprisingly cool shop, if you can bring yourself to walk through all the colorful lawn chickens and such to get up to the front door. I found lots of things to enjoy here.
From there, I went to Bear Trap Antiques on Highland Street (just off the main street), a large store with lots of glassware and knick-knacks. Across the street is Barn Mall Antiques, an enormous place filled with booth after booth of mostly affordable used items, collectibles, and other ephemera. I recommend visiting the Barn if for no other reason than the scope. There are booths lining both sides and down the middle of the barn, plus if you walk up the stairs there are more booths lining the upper loft – including one room filled with nothing but cool, old chairs (below). The upper walkway offers an interesting overview of the whole place, because it’s all open (see above). It actually stirred up my fear of heights a bit.
I stopped in a few more shops on the east side of Antique City Drive, but the next one that really caught my fancy was Bulldog Antiques, located in the old Opera House. This fun vintage shop would be right at home in Des Moines’ East Village or Historic Valley Junction. It’s filled with mostly mid-century furniture, clothes, collectibles, and other awesomeness (above). The owners have a very cool collection of vintage fans, classic radios, furniture from the 1940s to 1960s (you know, that era where it’s so ugly it’s cool?), records, knick-knacks, and more. I loved this store. This was the only place I actually bought something.
After hauling my purchase back to my car, I continued to the Village Blacksmith Antiques, a large, well-organized shop with a little bit of everything. And then I went across the street to the Granary Antique Mall (above). This shop may not look like much from the outside, but it’s actually THE place for high-end antiques in Walnut. It reminded me a bit of the big antiques mall in Red Wing, Minn. – a truly wonderful place. The Granary has 60 booths on two levels, with fabulous collections of furniture, pottery, antique toys, and so much more. This is the place for serious buyers.
Along the west side of the main street you’ll find Sugar Grove Antiques, Corn Country Antiques, Victorian Rose Antiques, Esther’s Antiques (above), and more. By this time I was getting antiques fatigue, but I did enjoy the mix of offerings, including primatives, glassware, jewelry, and vintage scarves.
I didn’t visit every store, so if you’re serious about your antiques, you should check out the website.
Walnut is located 85 miles west of Des Moines on I-80, an easy drive. The town has just 785 residents but reportedly attracts more than 80,000 tourists annually.
The annual Walnut Antique Show is the biggest draw, with more than 300 dealers lining the streets. The 33rd annual show will be held Friday through Sunday, June 19-21, 2015.
If you don’t want to wait until next summer, there’s also the Walnut Antique Fall Festival held Saturday, Sept. 13 (8 a.m.-6 p.m.) and Sunday, Sept. 14 (8 a.m.-3 p.m.) This show features Red Wing pottery, plus primatives, advertising, and collectibles.