A day trip to go antiquing in Arcadia is the perfect way to step into the past — and score some exciting finds.
All it takes is a 40-mile drive east from Lakewood Ranch to go back in time.
The city of Arcadia, in DeSoto County, is known for rodeos, agriculture and the winding Peace River. It’s also known for antiques.
On Oak Street in downtown Arcadia, store after store is filled with old things, from furniture and glassware to paintings and jewelry. An antique fair on the fourth Saturday of each month brings in dealers from around the state and beyond and attracts shoppers from nearby and far away.
A day trip to Arcadia on a fair day provides the perfect opportunity to scour outdoor tables filled with treasures, browse shops overflowing with antiques and grab a bite to eat at one of the town’s local restaurants.
In Arcadia, the thrill of the hunt and the thrill of the past can’t be separated. It’s a trip back in time, and it’s right around the corner.
Past on Parade
For 10 years, Lee Russell has traveled to Arcadia every month to display his wares at the fair. He’s an antique dealer from Fort Myers and says the trip is worth it because it’s one of the best shows in the state.
He sells a range of items, from old bells and games to pencil sharpeners and cocktail stir sticks. People from across the country come to the fair, Russell says, so he tries to sell small objects they can take home with them.
The fair runs year-round, but Russell says the best months are October through May, when more dealers come to town. Those months also usually spell cooler temperatures for fairgoers, who browse booths set up outside in parking lots and under the massive oak tree in the Tree of Knowledge Park on Oak Street.
Husband-and-wife dealers Mike and Beth Darras have been coming to Arcadia every month from Indian Rocks Beach for four to five years to bring antiques to sell at the fair. Mike says sales are good during the fair, plus there are other, less material, benefits. “You get to interact with interesting people,” he says.
Two of those interesting people include fellow dealers Sam and Ray “Turtle” Dold. They call themselves transplants from everywhere, and they’ve found their way to Arcadia, too.
They set up an outdoor booth at the antique fair with items from their 10,000-square-foot barn and their now-closed Palace Roller Rink in Fort Myers. Selling at the fair was Turtle’s idea, Sam says, partly because of a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome brought by listing too many items on eBay. “Turtle has been a collector his entire life,” she says. “He is a straight-up, all-around hoarder.”
At a recent Arcadia antique fair, Sam brought her scrub board, and Turtle brought his accordion to play tunes and sing as shoppers browsed their booth. He even wrote a song about the fair:
“If you wanna have fun and wonder where,
visit the Arcadia antique fair.
The fourth Saturday of each month, people have fun picking vintage stuff.
Catch all the action, adventure and flair
at the Arcadia antique fair.
If you wanna have fun, I’ll tell you where,
visit the Arcadia antique fair.”
A third-generation antique dealer, Flo Rife, of Maddy’s Antiques on Oak Street, started the antique fair in 1995. She says the fair has turned into something great that brings business to the town.
That includes more business for the permanent shop owners in town whose stores line Oak Street and other streets at the center of town.
One of the not-to-miss stores in Arcadia is The Bizarre Bazaar, owned by James Crosby for seven years. The building itself, constructed in 1906, is an antique. It once served as the town’s opera house. At 9,000 square feet, it’s the biggest antique shop in town and takes up an entire block.
Crosby rents out a couple rooms to other dealers, but the remainder of the shop is filled with the items he has for sale — a wide variety that includes plates, vases, clothing and decor. He also has museum items on display that tell the story of the building’s history. The price of admission is simple, he says: the 27 steps up from the street level.
Pat Blackburn owns Arcadia’s Abigail’s Antiques & Collectibles with her mother, Betty Cook. “We try to have a little bit of everything,” she says. “We try to carry a good variety.”
She says she likes kitchenware in particular and sells Waterford crystal and Fiestaware in her store. “We really like when we can get busloads of people,” like a group of glass collectors that recently traveled from Palm Beach to Arcadia, she says. People from Miami connected to the movie industry also come to Arcadia looking for items to buy, she adds.
“This is a good, Southern old town feel,” Blackburn says. “Get a good glass of sweet tea, relax, and enjoy the shopping.”
For three years, Susan Brandenburg has been looking for an autoharp. She finally found the perfect one in Arcadia.
Brandenburg came to Arcadia on a recent antique fair day from Englewood. She tries to make it once or twice a year to browse what outside dealers have brought and to look through items in the shops. At the end of a day of hunting, she usually makes time to stop at Rattlers Old West Saloon, have a drink and relax with her husband, Reid.
Many people who come to Arcadia drive home at the end of a day of antiquing, but some choose to stay the night or come the night before to get an early start on shopping.
There’s a Holiday Inn Express & Suites about 2 miles away from the antique district. But for those who want to stay in the heart of the antique action, there is Oak Park Inn. The downtown bed and breakfast reopened for guests in June after being damaged when Hurricane Irma passed through. The 12-room inn has a new owner, Sanjay Patel, who has been in the hotel business for about 20 years.
The antique fair seems to mostly draw folks from out of town, like Paula Zagarra, who drove from Miami to look for antiques for a house she’s remodeling. She bought two tables at Maddy’s Antiques and loaded them into a van for the return journey.
The fair also attracts some locals. Leo and Teri Santucci live in Arcadia and check out the fair almost every month. They moved to the area because they both grew up in small towns, and they liked Arcadia’s small-town feel. Teri Santucci says, “We call Arcadia the town where people still open doors for you.”
Visiting Arcadia offers a chance to soak up some of that small-town feel. It also means taking a step back into the past.
With any luck, those who spend a day in Arcadia will find something to take home with them and make their own — China plates or an old bookcase or a tin train set. Some of those things might take their new owners back in time a hundred years. Others might take them back to Arcadia.