PHOTO: The three-level Landmark Antique Mall in Bluefield, West Virginia, has everything from furniture to fabrics, old photos to modern art, along with coal-industry and railroad relics. (Photo by Hal Gibson)
Last year, Fodor's named Buchanan, Virginia, one of the 10 best antiquing towns in the United States on grounds that it is “positioned right at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the perfect destination for antique dealers seeking premium vintage wares.” Fodor’s cited the small town’s half-dozen Main Street stores, including The Barefoot Peddler and the 40-vendor Purgatory Emporium.
As part of its economic-development strategy, Buchanan’s town leaders polished its image as a premier antique stop for tourists traveling between the Shenandoah and the Roanoke Valleys, and the boosterism paid off big with Fodor’s recognition.
People in the region celebrated the distinction – No. 5 on the list and the only Virginia town to be recognized – with the nearby Roanoke Times crowing, “Botetourt County can be proud.”
Not to take anything away from Buchanan – after all, the town worked hard for more than a decade to build its reputation for antiques. But within 150 miles, there are four other cities where people are scratching their heads. They wonder, “Why not us?”
With an even bigger variety of antique stores, some boasting more unusual items, the towns and cities worth a look include Abingdon, Roanoke and Salem in Virginia and Bluefield in West Virginia.
Bluefield, West Virginia: 130 miles from Buchanan
The granddaddy of antique stores in this town on the West Virginia-Virginia border is the Landmark Antique Mall, which straddles a city block between Bland and Federal Streets and sports a full basement and second story. Finds can range from old bellows tables to vintage toys worth hundreds, solid furniture pieces like armoires and glass-fronted hutches, old wooden sleds propped up against the wall, shelf after shelf of glassware and ceramics, and an array of items for any budget including linens for less than $10.
Even though Bluefield is a 10- to 15-minute drive off Interstate 77’s West Virginia Exit 1, you’re likely to find intrigued travelers inside the store at any given time, many of them repeat customers. For example, the restored Elkhorn Inn on the Coal Heritage Trail (Route 52) in Landgraff, West Virginia, about 30 minutes away makes a point of touting its secondhand furnishings, many from Landmark: a bentwood chair for $25, drum tables for $70 and a vintage sofa for $75. Landmark’s staff knows many of its customers on sight, and it’s not uncommon to hear small-town tales involving personal relationships. For instance, one customer paid for a piece but didn’t pick it up until literally years later. It was waiting for them.
Landmark isn’t the only game in town. Across Federal Street is Ugly Duckling, whose owner has spent a lifetime in antiques and is knowledgeable about art, mid-century Americana, fabrics and more. You can buy fine jewelry, vintage hats, African art, elaborately carved pieces of furniture and items made of jade, copper or wood that you didn’t know you needed. Down on Princeton Avenue and around the corner is White Elephant, also sporting an eclectic array amassed by an owner with hoarding tendencies. Amid (and sometimes buried under) all the regular stuff are a few jewels – a two-story piece of stained class, a pair of old designer lamps, four white collectible metal outdoor chairs, and a lightly used custom-reupholstered chaise longue.
Just a little way down from White Elephant on Princeton Avenue is Only One Look, which carries mostly new merchandise including Blenko and Fenton glass and also coins, silver and gold. But this little store is full of surprises as well, including weird objects such as an enormous, engraved walrus tusk.
The king of hoarders is Mack Barber, who is often in trouble with the city for letting his merchandise spill outside of the premises, cluttering up the pavement all the way to the street. You won’t find a business sign on his establishment, but you can’t miss the store along Bluefield Avenue near the Dairy Queen. You’ll know he’s open when the door is ajar and people are milling around. People drive up with estate-sized trucks full of belongings to offload onto Barber. Going the other direction, street vendors from New York come to fill up their cars with merchandise to hawk in the big city. The volume and the prices are unbelievable. You could furnish an entire kitchen here for $50 or a house for $500. Remember that word “hoarder.” Don’t expect to penetrate deeply into the building unless you’re fit and adventurous. You can find everything here from vintage LPs to claw-footed bathtubs.
Abingdon, Virginia: 150 miles from Buchanan
Abingdon Antique Mall offers 24,000 square feet of shopping in a building with 40 vendors hawking everything from Persian rugs to old gas-station memorabilia – just like you might find on American Pickers. Wheeled objects include old bikes, buggies and scooters. A recent addition to the inventory includes a majestic European sideboard with stained glass embellishments and a leather panel at the top. Want a life-sized statue or just one to set on a tabletop? This is your place, and you can take your pick of bronze, plaster or other materials, with your choice of bulls or busts, fierce felines or docile dolphins. Location: off Interstate 81 at Exit 13.
Upscale and funky is the word on Main Street, where the shops sport things like antique furniture, crystal jewelry made by local artists, soapstone plates imported by an African immigrant, mirrored jewelry boxes, and second-hand leather boots. Park your car near the historic Barter Theatre and the Martha Washington Inn. Enjoy the grounds, then walk to Zephyr (“four floors of antiques”), Foxglove (check out the oil paintings and elegant furniture), Jerroleen’s Shed (see if the primitive cabinets are still there) and Main Street Marketplace – all antique stores on Main Street. Abingdon is crawling with antique stores, thrift shops and boutiques. Plan to spend the day.
Abingdon is also a must-stop for coffee. You can dine on homemade truffles, cupcakes, pies and tarts at Anthony’s Desserts on Main Street, where the sweets are so good you’ll moan with every spoonful or bite. Zazzy’z Coffee House and Roastery is down at the other end of Main Street (east). It’s driving distance from the antique shops, and the coffee is just as delectable, plus you can also get a quick meal of quiche, sandwich or soup.
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Roanoke and Salem, less than 30 miles from Buchanan
Salem is at least 10 times the size of Buchanan, but its cozy historic main street – and its cluster of antique shops – will give you roughly the same feel. Check out Salem Antique Market with its multiple vendors to find an array of furniture, glassware, collectibles and crafts. Antiques by the Market is a downtown antiques mall – it’s already decked out for the holidays with trees and lights. A recent Facebook post shows a six-arm, solid-brass chandelier with all original prisms, joining two others with glass-beaded ropes. Both stores are on Main Street.
Though Salem is the county seat of Roanoke County, the small city sits in the shadow of the much bigger Roanoke with its downtown filled with high-end restaurants and medium-sized skyscrapers, historic hotels and museums devoted to art, railroad and science. Devotees of antiques often frequent the Grandin Village neighborhood, where shoppers browse in stores (including New to Me Consignment Boutique) next to the 1930s-era restored theater. But the main draw has to be Black Dog Salvage, right around the corner at 902 13th St. Southwest. If you’ve watched Salvage Dawgs on TV, you’ll know that these guys are not strictly into antiques. But as they tear apart old structures and unearth treasures, they come up with plenty of vintage signs and reclaimed architectural elements that might enhance your collection.
So don’t limit yourself to the Fodor’s top picks. Spend a couple of days driving around the region to experience a wider range of antiques heaven. Just remember to commandeer a big SUV or pull a small trailer for all the new possessions you’ll want to take home.