If you’ve never wondered about the difference between junking, thrifting, and antiquing, you’re about to find out anyway. Hold onto your hair, because chances are, you’ll have a new favorite hobby by the time you finish this segment. It was one of my favorite features of living in Albuquerque–the sheer plenitude of antique shops, secondhand stores, and flea markets that clustered on the Mesa close by the university. Of course, if you take a moment to ponder, such density makes perfect sense, given that the town’s population is heavily centered on people in their retirement years and students who need to furnish apartments or houses on the cheap.
Know Your Breeds
You may think that all shops peddling previously owned goods are the same. You would be mistaken, but that’s a common error. Let’s take a moment to differentiate between them, so the next time you happen upon one, you’ll know whether or not to spend time darkening its door.
These were by far the most popular of the types in the area surrounding the UNM campus in Albuquerque. They tend to specialize in vintage clothing and accessories, but don’t offer much that strays beyond the realm of the wardrobe. Often, they offered cash or exchange in kind for goods brought in and deemed acceptable. You can see why such places would be popular for young students, perpetually strapped for ready cash and in the full thrall of fashionably shabby attire. It was much in mode during my years in the city to appear as if you dressed from the jumble bin at a charity sale, complete with trendily placed patches, ragged hems, and a wardrobe that more often than not, fit somewhat awkwardly. You might also find a varied selection of tacky plastic jewelry to go with your ill-fitting skinny jeans and clumsily mended faded sweater or band t-shirt from a concert that happened before your birth. This is, in fact, a bonus, as it apparently ties together the jumble-bin look very nicely. Some people get away with this look because they are genuinely uncaring of whether they appear strange. That’s all fine and good, but intentional eclectic attire isn’t for everyone. Most don’t manage it, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
These are those specialty shops that sell particular types of gently-used goods or novelty items. They also enjoyed a particularly brisk trade in the university area–furniture and flatware or posters, used musical instruments, art, and other various needs or desires of daily life could be had in these grotty shops that run along the 66-Central strand and are dotted about on the side streets radiating out at right angles from the main artery of city traffic. Bureaus and kitchen tables with mismatched chairs might be thrust cheek-by-jowl with mismatched flatware and use-dulled cutlery. Find a charming little lustre pitcher only missing a part of the handle and one small chip in the base. Comb through endless piles of what-have-you for what-you’re-looking-for. You just might get lucky. You never really know.
Flea Markets and Jumble Shops
These were surprisingly common in Albuquerque–straddling the line between the Goodwill store and a BigLots, they were stores that offered a bit of everything on a for-profit basis, but accepted donations. Places called Savers were particularly appalling to me on this point, but they weren’t alone. They had competition, and it was a pretty stiff affair.
As well, you might see big flea market venues that opened only on Saturday down at the Fair Grounds. These were places where business was briskly done on every front and by no means could you assume that only junk was on offer. It was a legitimate expectation that, if you were vigilant and went early enough, you could find some lovely jewelry, furnishings, or other items for an acceptably low price. As well, in New Mexico, these biweekly markets seem to be the place to find the attic antiques–items with legitimate value, but often without provenance.
In the West, I largely saw this niche filled with the flea market/fair venues. However, in the South, these are a highly distinguishable breed. They will have some aspects in common with second hand shops and flea market venues in the Southwest, but often, the low-quality merchandise will not be apparent. Items are not chipped or damaged, and while your purchase may not be costly or of any actual antique value, you are just as likely to find beautiful, high-quality furnishings that have been cared for and are sold at a relatively low price.
Filling the Space Available
Just like the junk shops and low-brow, low-cost stores like BigLots, the more successful antique markets have become chains, with more than one location. Where I’m from, the two shops with the most draw are Olivia Morgan and Queen of Hearts. But that hasn’t stopped The Green Bean or The Classy Flea from opening up a booming business on the fringes of more established territories. You’ll most often find these emporiums in old Drug Emporiums or Piggly Wiggly store spaces. They are second-tier in every sense. Yes, their merchandise is often quite attractive, clean, and cared for, but it is second-hand. As well, like weeds, these shops take advantage of vacated buildings, moving in after the first business has died. It’s a comforting image that mirrors the natural world, and also accurately describes the nature of commerce in many places these days. Catch as catch can.
Most of these places are not going to over-price any of their goods. Some of my prettiest furniture and house goods came from Queen of Hearts or Olivia Morgan. No, what you must be wary of is becoming a collector. It is far too easy to make a habit of going “antiquing” or “thrifting” and buying all manner of things you don’t actually need. That’s how these shops obtain most of their goods in the first place–people realize they must clean house unless they want to be featured on an A&E original series, and so they sell up.
What I soon came to realize is that a thing may indeed be antique in nature, but if it is simply jumbled in with a bunch of other items in your home, it takes a serious loss in its utilitarian value–it becomes “junk”, no matter how costly or rare it may actually be. In order to preserve the worth of a thing, it needs to be seen or used, depending on its purpose. We live in a culture that has come to define itself by its “stuff”, but that doesn’t mean you should eschew all worldly possessions and run off to live in a monastery. Simply understand the wisdom of William Morris,
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”