Antiquing stirs visions of tiny, quaint shops nestled together along tree-lined streets in Small Town USA.
But not so in Edinburgh.
The Exit 76 Antique Mall, next door to Edinburgh Premium Outlets, is a one-floor mega-superstore of antiquity, oddball items, collectibles, jewelry and ephemera housed in a building that would be more at home on a farm than on a city square.
At 72,000 square feet, it's one of the state's largest antique malls. A merchant survey two years ago estimated 5 million items for sale there, and general manager Nic Nicoson invites any disbelievers to conduct their own count.
As a destination, the mall is a day trip into the past just 30 minutes south of Indianapolis on I-65 at Exit 76B.
For some of us, antiquing is addictive. I picked up the habit years ago on trips to England and now operate an antique booth in Indianapolis. A day at an antique mall gives me an oldies rush; the tactile thrill beats online shopping any day.
There are no reliable statistics on how many people share my passion for antiquing, but it's a pastime that keeps those who have fallen in love with it always on the hunt for more.
Stepping through the front door of Exit 76, I had to decide on going either left or right. . . . Right it was.
A showcase full of Van Briggle, Roseville and majolica pottery was tempting. But I was on a mission to find linens. I scouted every booth, but it took three hours to find a bargain. Two white embroidered pillowcases were tucked into a corner with a few others, neatly folded, tied with a fabric ribbon and free of stains. I'm a sucker for linens tied with ribbon. At $5 each, these were just right.
Weaving my way up and down aisles, I realized more than once that I had backtracked and strayed from my orderly plan. Intersecting aisles can hold tempting goods, but it's easy to become distracted.
At a showcase filled with Barbie dolls, a "Golden Empress" priced at $450 with a handmade gown seemed terribly expensive, and not particularly attractive. Only as an adult have I started buying them, and lately, I've seen prices drop.
What did seem like a good buy was a black "oriental" desk, marked "circa 1915." With shelves on top hidden by doors, and two drawers underneath, it could be mine for $395. But driving a Toyota Yaris ruled out big furniture purchases.
My big regret of the day was not buying a black Madame Alexander doll, still in half its original box, with an L.S. Ayres tag. Originally $47, and in mint condition, it was selling for $25. Someday, the tag alone may be worth $25.
A red leatherbound book of James Whitcomb Riley poetry wasn't on my wish list, but its buttery soft cover felt like it belonged in my hand. Here in Indiana, prices for Riley tomes fluctuate wildly. So when I opened it and discovered it was a first edition, priced at $31, it seemed a reasonable amount to pay for the words of the Hoosier poet.
During the fourth hour, my legs were about to give out. But there was another prize to be scooped up, a frame containing four canceled checks. What made them special? They were all from Indianapolis banks and written in the late 1800s. More than anything else, ephemera -- paper items -- are fascinating because so much got tossed out, burned or otherwise didn't survive.
Overall, the trip was a success. For less than $100, I time-traveled to the 1800s and early 1900s. And in the future, when I admire my purchases or lay my head on those pillowcases, I'll dream of lives I never lived.