Twice a year, in the spring and fall, tens of thousands embark on Round Top (population 90) and surrounding “Roundtopolis” towns from Carmine to LaGrange for the Round Top Antiques Fair – an event that’s unmatched worldwide.
Shoppers, dealers, decorators and proud “junktiquers” flock from across the country and around the globe for crafts and collectibles, vintage and new, purveyed by hundreds of vendors at what’s essentially Texas’ largest and longest-running yard sale. For Round Top newbies making the pilgrimage for the first time, the experience can be more than overwhelming. Long traffic lines, muddy shoes and even cow patty-tinged pastures make for a potentially miserable excursion. But that doesn’t stop Fort Worth interior designer Kimberley Ellis, owner of Off the Cape, an online store offering vintage and new home furnishings and décor, from taking the trip to rummage for treasures both for herself and her clients. Having traveled to the event for eight years, Ellis is now a seasoned vet.
“It is like going to visit family,” Ellis says. “After years of going down there, I have formed friendships with certain vendors. Most vendors set up in the same exact place every show. So when you go back, it's easy to locate your favorite spots and dealers.”
This Airbnb cottage, in Brenham, Texas, is a 25-minute drive from the Round Top Antique Fair.
Blooming wildflowers, beautiful scenery and crisp weather make the spring show (this year to be held March 27 – April 1, with many vendors opening a week earlier) Ellis’ favorite.
“It feels like a vacation to the country,” she says. “In a way, Round Top is like going back in time where the pace is slower, people enjoy people, and cell phones – due to really crummy service – are shut down and put away.”
If planning to go, one of Ellis’ biggest tips is to plan early. Finding accommodations can be tricky, and staying in a motel a half-hour or more from the shows is very common. Visit websites like airbnb.com and vrbo.com now to find potential homes to rent.
In addition to planning early, go to the show early. Ellis likes to avoid the latter days due to insane traffic and huge crowds. While the popular Marburger Farm Antique Show features more than 350 dealers from around the U.S. and the globe, Ellis prefers to stay away.
“I like to be able to move from field to field quickly since I often make several trips back and forth as I scout items,” Ellis says. “I also find that the big shows and fancier venues have much higher pricing. That being said, they are fun to browse through and do take some of the work out of finding a diamond in the rough. So if you have trouble finding the ‘diamonds’ on your own, shows like Marburger display things so beautifully that you may find that as a good trade-off.”
Two of Ellis’ favorite vendors are Bull Chic Antiques and Yeya’s Antiques & Oddities, both located at the Ex-Cess Field show in nearby Warrenton. Bull Chic focuses on reclaimed antiques and primitives from Texas as well as hides, heads and horns, while San Antonio-based Yeya’s features industrial items and random finds.
But first-timers should simply plan to meander and explore to feel things out, Ellis says, adding that everyone’s shopping preferences are different. Having a list of wants is fine, but keep an open mind for unexpected finds. If shopping for something specific, Ellis recommends taking measurements and photos of where the item will go in the home.
“Measure the largest possible option so you will know if it will fit in your needed space,” she says. “It can be deceiving to look at a cabinet in a large tent and picture it on a small dining room wall.”
Check items over carefully before purchasing. Does it wobble? Do the drawers stick? Renting a large vehicle or trailer might be necessary if searching for large pieces. Some vendors do offer shipping, albeit for a price.
“One of my mottos is, ‘If you find something you love, you will find the perfect home for it,’” Ellis says. “Don't get hung up on, ‘I love that but don't have anywhere to put it.’”
In addition to a tape measure and cash (some vendors prefer it and may be more open to negotiating), Ellis also insists visitors bring their manners.
“Have a conversation with vendors, compliment them, and recognize the tremendous amount of work they pour into their booths,” Ellis says. “Negotiate, but don't be insulting. Ten percent is the average of what they expect to come off of their prices, but if you buy a lot, just ask, ‘What is the best you can do on all of this?’ Vendors reward nice people.”