Round Top is a Texas town just about 4 hours from Dallas between Austin and Houston. It’s a pretty sleepy place with one main road and a town Mercantile. Needless to say, there isn’t much to make Round Top stand out, except for the fact that for the last 50 years (twice a year), they host one of the best antique shows in the nation there.
As someone who loves antiques and thrifting, it always felt like my kind of heaven to go and experience 15 miles of antique shows in one city. My friend Bree is someone who is always up for these kind of adventures, so when I asked her to go with me 6 years ago, of course she said yes. I was 7 months pregnant with Nola and we thought we could do it in one day. It was exhausting to say the least! We had never been and didn’t really have any direction or agenda. We decided we’d go back, but would give ourselves plenty of time, preferably while not pregnant.
This past March, many years later, we made it happen again. I booked a cottage at The Vintage and we packed our boots and wagon and headed south. This time around we were on a mission! I had 5 vacation rentals to furnish and while it was successful, we learned a lot!
Our lessons learned served us well this past week at the Round Top Fall show. We feel fairly experienced as Round Top shoppers and based on the amount of questions over the last few days, I thought I would share some of my tips to plan your trip.
When do I go?
The Round Top Antique Show is basically a collection of smaller antique shows. Each ‘show’ is comprised of many vendors. Some of these shows are larger than others, some more exuberant than others, some are furniture and others a mix with clothing and jewelry too. The dates listed on the website each year are focused on two of the largest antique shows in Round Top – Marburger and Red Barn. These two shows last about a week. Dealers from all over the world descend on the area, staging antiques and art in their booths. Some essentially installing beautiful showrooms inside a tent for people to shop.
After a while, more and more shows started establishing themselves. Some opened before Marburger and Red Barn, extending the show dates a bit earlier than advertised. Then there are the fields. While there are plenty of larger, more ‘official’ looking buildings vendors rent booths at, there are acres of open fields filled with tents for a less formal shopping experience. Even though the fields require more digging, it’s often worth the work since that is usually where the best deals can be found.
As far as timing goes, most Round Top goers plan their visit around the Marburger and Red Barn opening. It really depends on what your goals are. The larger shows are SO fun to experience. They’re put together so well and there is usually food and live music. While the fields are less organized but definitely geared more towards the ‘picker’ types. I think of Round Top as a three-week thing. The third week is the main show, so to speak. The second week is a great preview with a lot to choose from and see, even though you miss the main show. While the first week isn’t advertised, most dealers and buyers visit then. The big shows aren’t open yet, but you can shop the fields and hopefully get first dibs on the good stuff.
This past trip was the earliest we had ever visited. We heard from a lot of vendors we spoke to that they’ll often sell most of their inventory before the third week even kicks off. We could see why too, considering the amount of ‘sold’ stickers on things during a time that most people don’t even know that Round Top is open.
Where do I go?
Because the show dates change so often, I’ll just list my favorite ones below. A dollar sign indicates how expensive I found it to be based on my experience. I’ve also notated which shows offer food (key for fueling up during a long day of shopping) and also whether the show is a permanent Round Top show or in a field.
Excess I and II, $
The Porch, $$
Paul Michael (permanent, has food), $$
Cisco Home (permanent), $$$
Northgate (field), $
Tin Star (field), $
Old Town Market, $
Tree Star (field), $
Bar W (field), $
Renck Hall (field), $
Cole’s Antique Show, $
(Including the Above)
The Halles (has food), $$
The Arbors, $$
The Compound (has food), $$$
Blue Hills (has food), $$$
Week Three – Official Show Opening
(Including All of the Above)
Marburger (has food), $$$
Red Barn (has food), $$$
And that isn’t even half! If it was my first time, I’d plan around The Halles or The Compound show dates as they’re right in the middle. If you went towards the end of week 2, you could also catch Marburger. Although, accommodations become tricky to find then too. There’s no exact method, but I think you have to decide whether or not you are going mostly for the experience or if you have a furniture sourcing agenda.
Are Things Less Expensive in Round Top?
I get asked a lot about pricing. Do we go early for ‘deals’? Well, sure. However, I consider myself someone who ‘resells’ goods (as a designer procuring goods for client projects). When I resell an item, there is a markup there. That’s how most interior designers make a good part of their income. For a dealer, that is their only source of income. Building an inventory is a huge investment and requires a lot of overhead. Not to mention, the actual sourcing is so time consuming, then the hauling, moving, storing, etc. It all adds up. So the markup is necessary for someone to make it worth their time.
Do I negotiate? Sometimes. I look a lot, so I have a good feeling about pricing when I see it. I’m also sensitive to the work outlined above, so I don’t want to take advantage. And honestly, what might not be worth $500 to me, might be a steal for someone else. It really can be so subjective based on budget, the specific item and availability. And, I’m always open to hearing that someone is firm with their pricing. That’s ok with me, I respect the hustle. If there’s no budging, and it’s not worth it to me, then it just wasn’t meant to be.
My feeling is that people and designers in general don’t shop Marburger, The Compound or Red Barn for deals. They make the trip for the unique experience and for the selection and exposure. So if a deal is what you’re looking for, go early and stick to the fields.
Another thing we noticed this trip was that in general, the prices were a bit higher. We asked the folks at The Porch if this was in our heads or an accurate observation and she was in absolute agreement. The issues we’re all seeing with product shortages has led to a higher demand for second hand. In addition, any containers coming in from over seas are in a bottleneck in the ports and many vendors experienced substantially higher shipping costs. The vendor we were speaking to said that she normally pays $1,200 for a shipping container in the past, and now they’re upwards of $20,000. This is crippling to small businesses. And we even heard of some dealers not receiving their containers at all, even after months long delays.
It’s also important to consider availability. With new furniture being so difficult to source, that has left many folks looking for second hand or vintage things. Which is great! Just more competition to contend with. Between that and containers being slow, demand is high. So be don’t be surprised when you find that the selection is a bit more thin than it used to be.
How Much Cash Do I Bring?
Used to be that cash was king. But, times are changing and internet is getting better in the middle of nowhere Texas towns. I usually bring cash, but then use my credit card when I can. This time, a few dealers even allowed us to use Venmo. Checks are the only thing not really widely accepted.
I base my cash amount based on what I am purchasing for. This time, I brought $1,000. I brought more in March since I was buying way more furniture. I also remembered being able to use my credit card some, so it didn’t feel as necessary to come with so much.
There are ATMs, but they are often limited on how much they can dispense and even run out of cash sometimes.
How Do I Get My Finds Home?
Last March when we went, I was so confident I’d find a mover in town to pick up everything and haul it back to Dallas. I did end up meeting a company, who then ghosted me two days later. Luckily, we were able to secure a UHAUL just outside of town and we spent a half day driving around and picking up purchases and loading them ourselves.
We had the same approach this year. I rented a one-way trailer before our trip and picked up it the morning after we arrived. We parked it at our cottage and filled it on the last morning before we left town. This allowed us to drive Bree’s husband’s pick up around Round Top without the trailer attached which makes it a bit easier to navigate the fields. Once the truck was full, we’d head back to our cottage, unload and head back out. We opted not to waste time backtracking for picking up purchases.
I did notice that Northgate did have some storage units on site that seemed new. I don’t know much about them, but it did seem like a solid solution and you could certainly arrange for someone to pick up at a later date. I am also pretty confident there are movers at Marburger or Red Barn, but I’d imagine they’re white glove and not inexpensive.
Bree and I are fine with a little elbow grease and don’t mind heavy lifting in the name of antique shopping. It’s work to load and unload, so be prepared!
What Do I Wear?
This could vary based on Texas’ drastic weather. But I plan for comfortable shoes and layers. Rain boots are usually a good idea especially if it’s been raining recently. Or at least a waterproof option. I prefer to wear a hat to keep the sun off my face.
Despite how hot is was this past week, I suffered and wore long pants. The mosquitoes were no joke, and long pants end up saving my legs.
I also rolled up a rain coat and stashed it in my wagon in case it started raining on us!
Any Other Tips?
Buy a wagon! This is essential to haul treasures back and forth to the car. Bring a water bottle too. Some vendors sell waters and soft drinks, but better to be prepared. It also may not hurt to have some old blankets and bungee cords for securing things if you’re moving yourself. I also bring a few Costco boxes for packing smaller tchotchkes.
I make floorpans with dimensions for projects I am sourcing for. If you’re going for personal projects, you don’t have to be quite that organized, but I always recommend keeping a note in your phone with rug sizes for spaces that you might be shopping for! Same goes for art. It can’t hurt to take pictures of spaces you’re furnishing. Not everyone can visualize their space, and this is a good way to keep a visual handy for reference.
My biggest piece of advice is to just drive and pull over when you see a show. You can use my list to narrow it down, but there are also so many others. Half of the adventure is the journey itself, right?
Any other questions, just ask!