There's no end to what's available at antiques extravaganzas A World of Collectibles

FOOD & HOME

September 11, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

They call it the Antiques Capital of the Country. But if you love antiques collectibles, and other charming old "junque," you might want to shorten that and just call it heaven.

From Adamstown to Kutztown, along routes 222 and 272 in Pennsylvania, there are dozens of antiques shops, malls and co-ops, each housing from one to several hundred dealers.

And then there are the extravaganzas.

Three times a year -- spring, summer and fall -- what feels like the entire antiques world converges at four sites along this picturesque stretch southwest and northeast of Reading in east-central Pennsylvania. There are hundreds and hundreds of dealers spread out over fields and endless parking lots. It's as if every object in the universe must, at some point, pass through the myriad booths and tents, across the tables and crates, of the sellers here. The next extravaganza weekend is two weeks away, Sept. 22-25.

"It's incredible, the amount of antiques in this country, and the number of people who make a living out of it," says an enthusiastic Greg Huntington, of Plainfield, N.J., who's been on the collecting trail for about two hours at Renninger's Antiques Extravaganza in a field at Kutztown. "Sometimes you get overloaded, you burn out a little bit. There's too much to see," Mr. Huntington says.

At first sight, until your eyes get trained to pick out the things that interest you, it does seem a bewildering array of stuff: matchbooks, snowshoes, Bakelite bracelets, gloves, '40s fabrics, cap guns, Staffordshire pottery, silver flatware, stuffed animals, glass doorknobs -- it's all here. Quilts, carousel horses, samovars and spirit kettles, Oriental rugs, highboys and lowboys, Victorian silver thimble holders, ship models and musical instruments -- if you covet it, if you collect it, you'll find it here.

And maybe, with all the competition, at a price you can afford.

"You could go to an auction and sit there for five hours for one thing, and then somebody bids it sky-high," says Ed Stoudt, of Stoudt's Black Angus Antiques Mall, Adamstown. But with so many dealers in one place -- there are 200 to 350 dealers at the Black Angus every weekend -- "if anybody's a collector, it doesn't take long to find things." It doesn't take long to find a lot of things. "We get a lot of decorators from New York and Washington," he says, buying in bulk for restaurants, bars and other need-a-touch-of-nostalgia spaces.

"And if you feel something's too expensive, you can dicker -- or there may be a half-dozen people with the same thing," Mr. Stoudt says.

Mr. Stoudt, who started out in the early '70s with a half-dozen dealers in the basement of his restaurant, estimates that today there are 1,000 to 2,000 dealers in the area on a regular weekend, and as many as 4,000 to 5,000 for an extravaganza weekend.

Punch bowls, meat grinders, '50s end tables, Hoosier cabinets and Victorian sideboards, magazine racks, sparkling clear glassware with little glass loop-de-loops around the perimeter, railroad lanterns, vintage records and games . . . This bounty of beguiling objects has been available since 1962 at Shupp's Grove, said to be the oldest of the outdoor markets. Every weekend from April to October, dealers set up their wares under the trees. The grove had fallen on hard times and was down to 28 dealers when Marilyn and Carl Gehman bought it three years ago; now it's on the way back.

"We're real excited," Ms. Gehman says. "A lot of people are coming back after being away for 10 or 12 years." The Gehmans make an effort to keep quality of merchandise high. "No flea-market items," Ms. Gehman says. "It has to be antiques, art and collectibles."

Some dealers save their best items for extravaganza weekends, she says, and most take pains to produce a beautiful display.

A model steam engine, a 1903 movie projector, bait cans, Coke bottles, croquet sets, old dental tools . . . Is your mind boggled yet? And at Renninger's, you can even pick up some freshly picked corn or a couple of one-gallon perennials.

"We were originally farmer's markets," says Jim Renninger Jr. of Renninger's. "Then we got into the antiques business."

Renninger's No. 1 opened in 1960, and Renninger's at Kutztown in '74. "In 1975 we began the extravaganza," Mr. Renninger says. "We wanted to get something going during our slow period, in summer."

The Renninger Extravaganza in Kutztown is open the last weekend in April, June and September. Renninger's No. 1 in Adamstown is open every Sunday. Stoudt's Black Angus Antiques Mall in Adamstown is also open every Sunday, and Shupp's Grove in Adamstown is open every weekend from April through October.

It's thus possible, on an extravaganza weekend, to hit Renninger's at Kutztown on Thursday (said to be the big day, when all the "best stuff" is out, though admission is $40 a car, as opposed to $2 a person Friday and Saturday), to be at Shupp's Grove Friday, to return to Kutztown Saturday, and to shop Stoudt's and Renninger's No. 1 on Sunday. If you can stand it.

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