Tips For Mall Shopping

by Bruce Johnson

This article has been re-published and edited to include a new cover photo. Original date of publication: Nov. 6th, 2016.

I’ve taken two long road trips around this time of year a few years ago, one across the Midwest and another dipping down into the Southwest, so I have several stories to share with you. The common denominator in both road trips was my determination to leave myself enough time to breeze through as many antiques shops as possible along the way.

Which leads me to my first post-trip column: tips for shopping in antiques malls.

Now, for those of you who stopped shopping at antiques malls once you realized that 80% of the items are younger than you, let me remind you of a couple of facts.

1. The only person who doesn’t find anything is the one who quit looking.

2. There is a bargain in every shop; you just have to know how to spot it.

So, for those of you who still like wandering through an antiques mall, let me offer a few observations that I made after hitting at least thirty of them recently.

First, it’s not just about “us.” In all my years of digging through antiques malls, I have never found a piece of Grueby pottery, but I have found numerous unique, inexpensive gifts for special friends and family members, including very affordable Van Briggle, Weller and Roseville pottery.

And if you are not yet convinced, ask yourself this: where would you rather be doing your holiday shopping – in an empty antiques mall or a crowded shopping center?

Second, always take two laps through the store. Most booths are packed from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, which means when you take a second lap – going in the opposite direction – it will feel like you are in a different mall.

Third, don’t overlook the display cases. When unsure what they have or how much it might be worth, mall dealers will stick it in a locked display case, especially if it has the potential to be a really fine piece.

(And vintage jewelry makes a fabulous gift.)

Fourth, cash doesn’t have as much bargaining power in a group shop as it does with an individual owner, as every transaction has to be run through the register. But they hate paying that 3% credit card charge, so be sure to bring cash or a check if you hope to do any negotiating. And nearly every mall exhibitor will give the management permission to allow a 10% discount, provided you politely ask “if they can do better on the price.” If you are making an even lower offer, expect to have to wait while they try to reach the exhibitor by phone.

Finally, you’ve seen that room in the back that is marked “Do Not Enter.” Typically this is where sold items are stored, but it is also where items fresh from an estate sale are being held temporarily. While I do not advocate ignoring a “Do Not Enter” sign, you certainly can stand at the open doorway and look – and then ask questions.

Until next Monday,

Got a tip of your own? Share it with us over at our Facebook page.


Below: No, I did not buy the moose head, but I did seriously consider the Van Briggle vase beneath it.


This article has been re-published. Original date of publication: Nov. 6th, 2016.