We were meandering through an antiques store when my 12-year-old daughter stopped dead in her tracks. "What's that?" she asked, mystified. Being (ahem) of a certain age, I instantly recognized the ancient restraining device. "That," I said, "is a girdle. It's what we wore to look shapely before the invention of crunches."
Metro Phoenix may seem an unlikely spot for antiquing, but three major neighborhoods offer plenty of options. Like us, you'll probably find more collectibles and great junk than real antiques (anything that's 100 years old or more), but the hunt is the fun - especially if you bring along a cohort, take time for a meal or a drink, and make an afternoon of it.
Scottsdale's Main Street may be known as an arts district, but between the galleries, look for dealers carrying some of the best antiques in town.
On a recent visit, my daughter and I walked east down Main Street, starting at J.H. Armer Interior Design & Antiques (closed Sat-Sun; 6926 Main St.; 480/947-2407). The store features 18th- and 19th-century European furnishings. We also found an ornately carved Chinese altar, and a bit of bathroom humor: 19th-century commodes.
Down the street, Richard II Antiques (closed Sun; 7004 Main; 480/990-2320) peddles estate jewelry, china, and silver. I was intrigued by an antique French vinaigrette, a decorative silver vessel historically filled with vinegar and held to one's nose when passing, say, an area where chamber pots were emptied.
Bates Collection (by appointment through Oct, then open Mon-Sat; 7034 Main; 480/970-3025) sells furniture, architectural pieces, mirrors, and religious statues from Mexico and South America, such as an early-19th-century statue of San Ysidro. Among the antiques and reproductions at Christopher Galleries (closed Sun; 7056 Main; 480/941-5501), we found a 19th-century Turkish fabric trunk and 1920s Egyptian revival armchairs.
After pausing for spicy Thai food at Malee's On Main ($; 7131 Main; 480/947-6042), a longtime arts-district favorite, we drove the short distance to a strip mall, where two vast shops yielded a bonanza of collectibles. Antique Trove (2020 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 480/947-6074) has 138 dealers' wares displayed in a 25,000-square-foot space. My daughter was smitten by a 1950s dinette set, while I pored over the cases stuffed with vintage Navajo jewelry and Arizona artist Ted De Grazia's kitschy barware from the 1960s to 1980s. Next door, Antique Centre (2012 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 480/675-9500) has a similar setup, with more than 100 dealers spread out in a former bowling alley. The coconut bikini top and colorful Fiesta dinnerware were my daughter's choices. I gazed at the Civil War relics.
Antiques shops are sprinkled throughout the historic neighborhoods bounded by Camelback and McDowell Roads and Central and Seventh Avenues. You have to drive between most shops, so, depending on our schedule, we plan our route to allow us time to either relax over lunch at My Florist Café ($$; 530 W. McDowell Rd.; 602/254-0333) or grab a latte at the outdoor cappuccino bar of AJ's Fine Foods (5017 N. Central Ave.; 602/230-7015).
We started this visit by working our way down Seventh Avenue, stopping at Qcumberz (4429 N. Seventh Ave.; 602/277-5133), which is crammed to the rafters with treasures and oddball items such as ancient suitcases, saddles, wagon wheels, birdbaths, and salvaged windows. At Melrose Vintage (closed Sun-Tue; 4238 N. Seventh; 602/636-0300), we saw whitewashed vintage furnishings, all with cottage charm. We also spotted refurbished table lamps, old china, and the store's line of new Shabby Chic and House fabrics.
Antique Market Place (1601 N. Seventh; 602/255-0212) houses 72 dealers. Among the clocks, jewelry, and furniture, we spotted a 4-foot-high cheerleading megaphone and a perfectly preserved wood croquet set. One highlight here is Boom Boom LaRue's, which carries over-the-top vintage women's eveningwear. We found feathers, sequins, rhinestones, and even towering headpieces from a Las Vegas revue.
The Antique Gallery (5037 N. Central; 602/241-1174) is one of the few Phoenix spots emphasizing fine antiques, with about 150 dealers spread between 30,000 square feet in two adjacent stores. Longtime Scottsdale antiques doyenne Jackie Pearson moved here recently, and she offers Russian icons and other religious items. At other dealers' displays, we saw an 1830s Federal-style chest, a 19th-century French silver coffee service, and old British pub signs.
The early-20th-century storefronts here have been spiffed up, and the downtown area along Glendale Avenue is known as the state's best antiquing district. Lately, some of the antiques stores have given way to gift shops, but there are still plenty of purveyors of old things, all within walking distance.
It was here, at Maudie Mae's Antiques & Fine Things (5817 W. Glendale Ave.; 623/463-3363), that we spotted that girdle as well as a great old spinning wheel. The shop features 21 dealers who specialize in everything from old tools to vintage clothing. Bo's Funky Stuff (open Thu-Sat and by appointment; 5605 W. Glendale Ave.; 623/842-0220) anchors the other end of Glendale Avenue and has been a downtown mainstay since 1982. The store is stuffed with 20th-century collectibles, including plenty of local nostalgia. We saw the ancient Coke machine from Navaro's (a beloved old flower market), plus the mechanical camel that once stood in an Apache Junction, Arizona, date shop.
Down a few doors, MilitaryItems.com (5623 W. Glendale Ave.; 623/934-8181) sells uniforms dating from World War I to the Vietnam era. We discovered real bomber jackets and soldiers' backpacks, plus a bazooka from World War II.
Just off the main artery, Glendale Square Antiques (7009 N. 58th Ave.; 623/435-9952) specializes in china, glassware, figurines, and - as we could tell from the tick-tick-ticking when we entered - clocks. Besides mantel and cuckoo clocks, the shop also has a good selection of pocket watches.
At this time of year, my daughter and I always top off an afternoon of Glendale antiquing with dinner at Haus Murphy ($$; 5819 W. Glendale Ave.; 623/939-2480), a German eatery with an antique-y ambience. As it gets dark, we eat dessert and take a final inventory of our loot, then we stroll out into the night, already planning our next foray.