"It's the Olympics for antiquers, only it happens annually instead of every four years," Norman Schaut says about Atlantique City, the world's largest indoor antiques and collectibles extravaganza, which he manages.
This seventh annual mega-show, scheduled for next weekend, attracts collectors of everything from apple peelers to zeppelin memorabilia. Professional and novice antiquers flock to Atlantic City, N.J., from around the country and around the world.
To walk past every booth just once means covering more than 12 miles. A total of 1,028 dealers from 43 states, Canada, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Japan, Uruguay and Guatemala compete for customers in the 7 1/2 -acre Atlantic City Convention Center.
According to Mr. Schaut, advance ticket sales are up 53 percent over last year, and 32 percent of the reservations so far are from shoppers west of the Mississippi. The recession isn't hindering ticket sales; rather, it seems more people than ever are searching for bargains and are willing to take a trek to prospect for hidden treasures.
Mr. Schaut claims his crowds generally are bigger than those at the legendary Brimfield markets in Brimfield, Mass., because 25 percent of the U.S. population can drive to Atlantic City without stopping for gas, and dealers bring things to his giant indoor bazaar they would not risk showing outdoors at Brimfield.
Timing counts, too. "In March everyone has cabin fever. They can't wait to come to the first big antiques market of the year," Mr. Schaut says. To steal some of Brimfield's thunder, Mr. Schaut scheduled his show a month ahead of Brimfield's opening. (While Mr. Schaut named his firm Brimfield Associates, it is not associated with the Massachusetts markets.)
Furniture and decorations, mostly Victorian or later, are shown in room settings in a section billed as "Furniture Showcase by the Sea." Toys, dolls, games, trains, teddy bears, holiday collectibles, juke boxes, arcade machines, player pianos, carousel figures and country store items are for sale at the "Fun Fair." Country gear, quilts, coverlets, jugs, painted furniture, tin, iron and pewter fills the "Country Festival."
The variety is dizzying. The pottery and glass section offers every style and quality from elaborate Meissen porcelains to simple bright Fiesta; beer steins to salts and peppers. The gamut of glass goes from pocket flasks to Pairpoint lamps.
A new section, "Spotlight on the 20th Century," focuses on the arts and crafts movement, art deco, and furnishings from the '50s and '60s.
Atlantique City show hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Sunday at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Admission is $10 each day. For more information or to order tickets, call (800) 526-2724.