I never saw myself as an antiques kind of woman. I couldn’t get past the image of musty stores smelling like my grandmother’s porch, all dust and old furniture. But then I bought a house—my first house—and realized that if I wanted to avoid the jumbo furniture stores and their identical, mass-produced pieces I would need to embrace antiques. Which is how I found myself on a day trip to Arcadia.
An hour and a half north of Naples, 50 miles east of Sarasota, Arcadia’s population hovers around 6,000. The town itself is rough at the edges, but its restored downtown has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s there you’ll find boutiques stuffed with antique wares, the reason Arcadia has become a prime destination for collectors.
I pulled into the little town before lunch on a Sunday afternoon, the day clear and warm, dust blowing through the streets. After acres of scrubland and cattle ranches on the drive up, I felt as if I’d stepped onto the set of an old Western. With antique shops lining West Oak Street, I wondered where to begin. Hands on my hips, hot wind blowing against my ankles, I surveyed the long stretch of commerce. Finally, I chose the nearest at hand, Antiques on Oak, a sprawling store that turned out to be the best on the block. I marveled at the collection inside: antique buttons, tin oil cans, glass inkwells, old postcards, rusted metal tools. I found a gray speckled Formica table from the 1960s with matching chrome chairs. If only I had a truck, I thought. Farther back in the store I fell in love with a wood trencher, smooth from use, and a low settee upholstered in red velvet. There were so many good options; too many.
A touch overwhelmed, I left that store and moved next door to Cory’s Antiques. There I found an old dress form, a bag of cat’s eye marbles, a jar of cufflinks and stacks of vinyl records. I admired a green wrought-iron table even though I knew I could never cram it into my car. To deflect my disappointment, I walked over to the glass display cases filled with glittering trays of costume jewelry. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d asked the woman behind the counter if I could try on a particularly stunning turquoise ring. The stone glowed blue against a silver setting, and I found myself swept along by its beauty as I tried to imagine its former owner.
Should I haggle? I wondered as I reached for my wallet. The woman behind the counter polished the silver with a soft cloth and without me having to ask said, “I’ll go ahead and knock off $2.”
Tickled by my find and suddenly famished, I crossed the street to Mary Margaret’s Tea & Biscuit. With its antique wallpaper and lace curtains, restored furniture pieces and tastefully laid tables, the restaurant felt like an epicenter of charm in this already lovely corner of Florida. I ordered the soup du jour, an excellent curried zucchini, as well as fresh salmon on a bed of greens. The tea room offers a selection of teas, and after my meal I chose their signature blend—a mix of white tea, rose petals and citrus—to accompany a mango scone, made fresh and served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves. As I ate, the proprietor, in a top hat and tails, a monocle tucked into his brocade vest, circulated among the tables. When he reached mine he asked if I’d found any treasures, and I held up my hand to show him the ring.
“Gorgeous,” he said, leaning down to inspect the bauble.
I smiled, delighted.
Reinvigorated by lunch, I set off again, back down the sun-drenched street, in and out of shops laden with objects that could have come from my grandmother’s curio cabinet. Just as I began to be worn out by all of it, the sheer mass of goods for sale, I came upon Maddy’s Antiques, a carefully curated space with an on-trend rustic vibe that felt less like an estate sale and more like the design shops you find in New York. There, a robin’s egg-blue pie safe filled me with covetous longing. But it was no use; I’d never get it home. Antiquing, I was beginning to realize, is not for the unprepared.
On the way back to my car, empty-handed but for the turquoise ring, I passed an older man sitting on a bench, looking as worn out as I felt.
“I’m an antique,” he said as I walked past. “They sold me.”
I laughed and shook my head. I hoped they got a good price.
Antiques on Oak
33 West Oak St., (863) 494-2038. Don’t miss the ladies’ feathered hats near the entrance and the hanging lights made from Ball jars.
29 West Oak St., (863) 494-5959. Best finds: turquoise and silver jewelry, cameo rings, Highwaymen paintings.
121 West Oak St., (863) 494-2500. Look for natural wood cabinets with punched-tin detailing.
Mary Margaret’s Tea & Biscuit
10 South Polk Ave., (863) 494-0615. Serves a selection of lunch items, plus scones with a choice of fruit preserves.