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What's Old is New at American Antique Shops


On display along the crowded main aisle of the cavernous warehouse are early 20th century kitchen utensils, vintage jewelry, old license plates and a wide variety of assorted unidentifiable objects. Welcome to 112 Antique Mall in White House, Tennessee, one of the tens of thousands of locations around the United States where vendors sell everything from treasures from someone's attic to memorabilia from long-forgotten celebrations.

Despite a national fascination with everything new and shiny, there is a portion of America that is focused on the old and quirky. Antiquing is, in part, a search for our history, says antiques appraiser Connie Sue Davenport.

"We collect and treasure, try to have, or find the things that remind of us of the sweet, comforting times of our childhood, with our grandparents primarily."

Rita Read, who has been in the antique business for more than 20 years, agrees. "What people are buying when they're buying antique, they’re buying a memory. They’re buying something that was at their grandmother’s house or their great-aunt Sally’s house or something they saw and loved in a museum maybe."

You can find almost anything you never knew you needed at an antique mall. (VOA/B. Richards)
You can find almost anything you never knew you needed at an antique mall. (VOA/B. Richards)

She says most antique buyers today are young. "People over 50 are not buying so much anymore, it seems, because I think they’ve got most everything they want and they’re being more selective. But younger people are furnishing houses and doing things like that so they’re looking for something that you see in the magazines."

Making something new from something old

Read suggests that do-it-yourself magazines and television programs are fueling a market for items that can be repurposed. "I think people enjoy making something their own and having something different from what everybody else has."

Just down the interstate highway from the antique mall is Sweet Pickin's, part of a breed of shop particularly suited to shoppers who are repurposing. Owner Tim La Roche admits that, although it is advertised as an antique store, it's more like a junk shop. "When I first opened up over here, I was bringing stuff over that I was going to do the project and then sell it. But what I found was that people were buying all my materials I was going to build with and it just took off from there."

La Roche and other antique dealers have found success by getting yesterday’s treasures, and sometimes yesterday's junk, into the hands of new owners.

"You can’t underestimate what people may be looking for, for their project. Literally anything is fair game and that’s what we’ve got – literally a little bit of everything."

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