Yesterday's Magazette

10 – Arcadia: An Antique Kind of Town


By Ned Burke

There is a saying that “all roads lead to Arcadia.”

Situated near the center of the Sunshine State, it is a short trip from nearly anywhere in Florida. And for antique lovers, the ride is well worth it.

Arcadia is now regarded as one of the fastest growing antique towns with 33 shops buying and selling everything from primitives to one-of-a-kind items. On the fourth Saturday of every month, the Arcadia Antique Association sponsors a huge Antique Fair where genuine antiques of all kinds are sold. On the second Saturday of each month, the Main Street Association holds the Arcadia Market Days from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. During this event, food, crafts, antiques, and “bits of everything” are always on display. And as if this isn’t enough, there is now a new “Extravaganza” sale held the last Saturday of months with five weeks. Fine arts and antiques are showcased in a hundred booths.

The revitalization of the city’s historic district is said to have started in 1992 when Maddy’s Antiques opened its doors off W. Oak Street. According to Maddy’s owner Flo Rife, it didn’t take long for other antique shops to pop up. Soon after, the once decaying downtown was transformed into a lively, vibrant, and friendly community.

“Years ago,” she says, “Arcadia had a negative image. But now, thanks to all the antique shops, our town has a positive pulse.” Flo is from an “antique family.” Her grandfather owned an antique shop and she collected carnival glass at a young age. Now, her daughter is involved in the business and she is teaching her granddaughter the joys of antiquing. Her expanded shop is now on W. Oak Street where the majority of antique shops in Arcadia are located. So it’s an easy walk from one store to another.

Flo’s specialties are primitives and sports items. She even has an old “Parlor Putter” like the one in a scene from the movie Tin Cup. She estimates the worth at around $4,000 but says it is not for sale at this time. She says about sixty percent of her business comes from dealers, but estimates nearly ten thousand people visit her store each year from January to March, which is considered the height of the “tourist season” in Florida. She says she sells only “true antiques” and is proud when customers comment on her store’s old wood floors and antique surroundings.

“One customer,” she recalls, “said my place reminded her of a shop in New England.”

It’s that “yesterday” feeling that is incorporated in all the shops in Arcadia. For instance, when you enter “Make It Yours” and talk to owner Mary Ann Gallagher, it’s like a visit with an old friend. Mary Ann has lived in Arcadia for 25 years. She started by selling used furniture and then opened her shop in 1996. Today, she buys most of her items at auctions and garage sales.

“It seems like a lot of items have come full circle,” she admits with a laugh, proving the adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Marc Washicheck of Cherry Hill Antiques says items change from day to day. “You never
know what will sell.” Originally from Wisconsin, he began selling at home parties and now sells a lot of items to dealers. But many customers, he says, visit his store after seeing his website and contacting him on the Internet.

“I get about two to three hundred e-mail messages a month asking about Arcadia, “ he says. “And I bet I get more phone calls than our local Chamber of Commerce.” He’s proud that Florida Monthly Magazine voted “Arcadia best antiquing town around.” He says Arcadia is at the “crossroads of Florida” and needs to get that message out. Unlike most other shop owners, Marc says he sells a great deal of merchandise in the summer months, mostly to dealers. In the winter months, he admits, tourists mainly browse or buy only small items.

Libby Roller of Treasure Alley agrees, saying “I sell linens, silverware—things like that.” Her shop specializes in military items and old tools. She began selling in flea markets until she had the opportunity to open her own shop late last year in Arcadia.

“I love this town,” she says. “It’s worth the drive to work here.” Although she now lives in Ft. Myers, she plans to move to Arcadia as soon as possible. “I just love all the old Victorian homes they have here. It’s really a special place.”

What makes Arcadia unique, besides the abundance of fine antique shops, is the town’s aesthetic charm with more than 370 homes and businesses on the National Registry of Historic Places. The downtown architecture has remained virtually unchanged for nearly a hundred years. And if you crave one of the best homemade chocolate peanut pies in the state, head over to Wheelers Café which has been in business since 1929. The town also has four golf courses nearby along with great boating and fishing in the Peace River.

Home of the oldest continuously run rodeo in the nation, the town has retained its western flavor. Located in DeSoto County, bisected by State Road 70 and U.S. 17, mid-state between Sarasota and Fort Pierce, Arcadia is truly the center of the universe for any antique lover.


1 Comment »

  1. Good description of Arcadia. Really gives you the ‘feel’ of the town–what it used to be and what it is now. Makes me want to cruise over that way and sample the various goodies offered by the town. If the author is not employed by the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce, he should be!

    Comment by Dave Williams — December 8, 2007 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

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