We visited The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin today, and on the way back we drove through a tiny town called Mazomanie.  Not exactly a bustling metropolis, Mazomanie is nevertheless rich with interesting and unique places, including a nice antique store and – the find of finds – a wonderful shop called Halle’s Vintage Shop.

Good fortune led to the shop being open later than its set hours on this rainy Sunday, so we were able to peruse at our leisure while the proprietress worked on a business deal.  The Shoppe featured rack after rack of gorgeous vintage mens and womens clothing, hats, accessories, jewelry, shoes, and more.  Prices were very acceptable, and in fact there were some very good deals to be had.  We walked out with a pair of men’s lounging shoes, a lovely red and white tennis dress (or possibly waitress uniform?) a pink negligee and a pink blouse for the tiny sum of $19.75.

Mazomanie is a long way from home for me, and the route there is filled with curvy back country roads.  Nevertheless, I’m already looking for an excuse to plan my next trip.  What a find!

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I love having a booth at the local antique mall. For a relatively small sum each month we stock our booth with our little treasures that we have tired of and wonderful finds that we pick up on shopping trips. Last weekend we set up a yet another new booth in a brand new antique mall, and planning that booth gave me a lot of insight on what to do (and what not to do) when planning out and setting up an antique store booth.

Booth Planning – Before you Jump In

1. Is it worth it? What rate does your antique store charge for booth space? Is the fee a flat rate, or is there a commission to the antique store as well? Don’t forget to add to that the cost of any fixtures you’ll need to buy or build for your booth. Consider what sort of traffic the antique store gets on a regular basis. Does it have sales or special events to generate customer interest? How’s the location? The bottom line is: can you turn enough sales to make it all worthwhile? You may not know the answer to that last question until you are a few months into your booth, but by considering all of these things up front you will be in better shape to make sure that you aren’t wasting your time and money.

2. Know your resources. Some antique malls offer a pre-partitioned space for your booth. Some will rent a locked case to you. Our first antique store booth had wonderful shelving all set up for us, but we aren’t always so lucky. The latest antique mall was so new that no booths were set up, and if we wanted to create a boundary between our booth and the next, we had to put in our own walls. We ended up buying lovely unfinished picket fences from the home supply store and building some beautiful rustic dividers that got lots of compliments and lots of attention from customers and other dealers alike. If you need to build your booth from scratch, remember that places like Craigslist can be your best friend for fixtures: check the “business” and “collectibles” sections for display fixtures, and keep an ear to the ground for local business closings – stores that are closing often sell off their old fixtures and displays cheaply.

3. Know your product. What are you going to sell? Knowing what you will be selling is essential to planning out what your booth needs. Sellers with lots of clothing will want attractive clothing racks. Sellers with smaller, easily pocketed items may want more locking glass cases. Sellers with artwork will need pegboard and/or easels to display their wares. Glassware sellers need good, sturdy shelves. Sellers with a little of everything will need just that – a little of everything – to properly display what they have to sell. What you sell will play a huge role in how you plan your booth layout.

4. Know your customers. Obviously, your most important goal in all of this is to generate some sales, and to do that you need to offer items that people want. The antique stores I sell at offer dealers the option to work the counter at the shop in exchange for their booth rent, and in doing that I got to observe what people in my area are buying. In my neck of the woods, people like less expensive items. Fiesta Ware is popular, “shabby chic” is in, Golden Books were flying off the shelves and items that were on sale got a lot of attention. I have paid special attention to these observations when shopping for our booth.

With these things in mind, you can plan out the layout of your booth as well as the product you’ll be selling. Once the planning is done, the real work (and the real fun) can begin.

Setting up Your Booth – Making the Most of Your Display Space

The big day has arrived: you are setting up your booth. Your merchandise is neatly organized, tagged, and ready to go. Is your booth set up in a way that optimizes the space?

1. Keep the fixture footprint small. Your booth “real estate” is a valuable asset and it is in your best interest to maximize that space as best you can. Ideally, that means keeping the “footprint” of any fixture to a minimum. Shelving and pegboard are excellent ways to create visually appealing height to your booth. Large tables can hold a lot of merchandise, but they can also take up a lot of precious floor space. By thinking vertically and not horizontally you can get the most of your space.

2. Make the booth inviting. The more time a shopper spends in your booth, the more likely he or she is to find something to purchase. For that reason, you want your booth to invite the shopper in. Some of the most inviting booths have lower display cases near the front, a wide entry way, higher shelves along the sides, and larger items near the back. The lower front makes it easy for a time-pressed shopper to see everything inside the booth while providing a safe and attractive display for the higher-end items in the display case. The wide entry way lets the shopper know its okay to step behind the front display case. The high shelves along the sides of the booth can hold small items that invite the shopper in for a closer look. Larger items towards the back of the booth can be attention grabbers that draw the shopper’s eye into the booth instead of on to the next booth. While your mileage may vary, depending on the nature of your wares and the fixtures available to you, these basic ideas can be drawn upon for all sorts of booth styles.

Dynamic Booths Keep the Regulars Coming Back

It always surprises me to see just how many “regulars” most antique stores have. Smart sellers know that their regulars can be good spenders, but they also know that regulars tire of seeing the same thing over and over again. Even if you can’t add new inventory all the time, the simple rearrangement of a few items every week can really catch the eye of the regular shopper.

Holiday theming can add a nice touch to a booth as well. One of my favorite booths has pastel glassware displayed for Easter, green depression glass and drinking paraphernalia for St. Patrick’s Day, and red and green abound for Christmas.

Booth Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The biggest mistake that I see at antique stores fall into three categories: sparse booths, cluttered booths, and booby-trap booths.

1. The Sparse Booth. If the shopper can look at every item in your booth in under ten seconds, your booth is probably too sparse to get much attention. A sparse booth is rarely revisited by antique store regulars because it gives the impression that there is nothing new, and it doesn’t attract the eye of the new shopper who has so many other new booths to visit. A sparse booth doesn’t invite the shopper to explore, particularly in a larger antique mall with hundreds of well-stocked, interesting booths. There are exceptions, of course – a few pieces of fine furniture may be more than plenty for a booth, and a single sale of the same can more than justify booth space. More often than not, however, the sparse booth is a “drive by” that generates little interest.

If you have too much booth and not enough inventory, considering shrinking the size of your space. You could save money in unused space, and your booth will look more full.

2. The cluttered booth. There is a fine line between a well-stocked booth and a hot mess and a good seller knows the difference. A messy, cluttered booth may hide some great treasures, but not all shoppers are treasure hunters. The key to keeping a well-stocked booth from looking cluttered is organization. If you have a little bit of everything, try to create sections or areas for certain items: a book nook, a glassware shelf, a tool rack, and so on.

3. The booby-trapped booth. We’ve all seen booths with items so precariously balanced one upon the next that something as simple as a misstep or an unlaced shoe could bring the whole thing toppling to the ground. Many stores enforce the “you break it, you buy it” rule, and customers avoid booths that look like they could be an expensive accident waiting to happen. If you have so much to sell that the only way you can cram it into your space is by piling item upon item, you may wish to consider renting more space or investing in more efficient fixtures.

This weekend I found two books that lead me to believe that I need to host an amazing party.  The first book is called “The Complete Hostess” by Clara E. Laughlin.  Published in 1906, this gem has a little bit of everything.  For a flavor of what the book has to offer, this little passage is from the Introduction:

“The purpose of this little book has not been to furnish an encyclopedia of etiquette and entertainment, but to gather together a reasonable number and variety of well-tried social formulae so that a woman who wants to give a birthday party for her five-year-old son, or a lawn tea for her visiting sister-in-law, or who must think up some idea for the church bazaar or Fete of All Nations, shall be able to find in these pages suggestions which her own clever wit will amplify and adapt and make personal and charming.”

The book has chapters on formal entertaining, informal entertaining, outdoor entertaining, weddings, church gatherings, children’s parties, and so much more.  What a find!

The second book is newer, published in 1966, is called “All About Entertaining – Everything You Need to Know to Have a Fabulous Social Life” by Kay Corinth and Mary Sargent.  Although the theme is similar, this book is completely different from The Complete HostessAll About Entertaining covers topics like invitation etiquette, table settings, party planning, meeting people in a new neighborhood, and being a fabulous guest.

It was by happenstance that I found both of these books this weekend, and together they make an excellent start to my hostess library.

Here in Wisconsin, planting season doesn’t start for quite  a few more weeks and after last night’s snowstorm those weeks feel like months.  I’m so anxious to get down and dirty in my garden, but until the ground warms up I’m stalled inside, planning, starting seeds, and reading.

What are some good additions to the victory gardener’s library?

My first obvious choice is the Victory Gardener’s Cookbook.  If your budget limits you to just one gardening book, consider this one.  With over 800 recipes plus tips on planting, growing, harvesting and storing, this book is a treasure trove of knowledge.  In print since 1982, this book has remained popular through the years.  Used copies start around $17.00 via the Amazon marketplace.

This book is everywhere.  The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (also known as the “W-O-R-D System”) is particularly appealing to me because it has helped me make great strides in planning a garden in a relatively small, urban environment.  Filled with useful reference charts and even a list of suppliers, this book is a personal favorite.

I can’t think of victory gardening without thinking of canning, so the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving goes on my list.  With over 400 recipes for everyone from the canning novice to canning goddesses like my own mother, this book has a wide appeal.  The book covers the basics like pickles and green beans, but it offers so much more for those who think they’ve seen it all, including some interesting ethnic recipes.  The book retails for around fifteen dollars.

Trowel and Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener.  Old hands probably already know much of the advice that author Sharon Lovejoy imparts in this humorous book, but for those of us with limited experience and no real mentor on hand, this book is worth its weight in gold.  Despite its wonderful whimsy, the book is well-indexed and extremely easy to use.  Well worth the $7.50 price tag.

Like any decent human being, I also have a “to be read” stack of books that I’ll get to reading “pretty soon.”  Among them are a few gardening books that I suspect would make this list, but I can’t be certain.  Readers, what are your opinions?

All New Square Foot Gardening.  The concept is interesting, and the reviews speak highly of the technique.  Readers, what are your experiences?

Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times.  My Victory Garden is partially motivated by financial concerns, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.  This book sounds like it could have some good advice, but the reviews on Amazon give me pause.

EBay is an excellent source for finding lucite purses, and often for relatively competitive prices.  However, there is always some danger when purchasing something that you can’t physically examine before you buy it, and sometimes the buyer an end up with something that she wasn’t bargaining for.  A lucite purse can be a large investment, with prices ranging into the hundreds of dollars.  A few basic guidelines can help ensure that your lucite purse is what you expect it to be.

Read between the lines. EBay listings can be viewed primarily in one of two ways: by browsing the listings for a particular category, or by viewing a list of items containing a particular keyword.  The easiest way to find lucite purses is to simply do a keyword search for “lucite purse.”  However, the keyword search has led to some abuse by sellers who will pack their item description with key words that aren’t necessarily descriptive of the item that they are selling, but rather that are designed to catch the searches of people looking for similar items.  For that reason, it is not unusual to see lucite purses listed with the terms “lucite” and “bakelite” in the title, even if that particular purse only contains one or the other, or in some cases – neither.  Never rely on the item’s title, and if you have any doubt as to the item’s makeup, do not hesitate to ask the seller if they can verify what the purse is made of.

Make assumptions.  Perhaps I am a pessimist, but as a rule of thumb when it comes to eBay auctions, I try to assume the worst.  That way, I am never disappointed and I rarely overpay for an item.  This comes in handy with lucite purses, as I have noticed many a listing where the seller calls the item a lucite purse, but then backtracks with a disclaimer, alleging to have no knowledge of the actual material.  One purse that I have seen time and time again on eBay is a lovely red purse with a clear top.  It has been advertised by more than one seller as being “lucite or bakelite” but the seller also claims to not be an expert on the material.  In this particular example, the material is actually a very lightweight and nearly modern plastic, and on careful examination it appears to be a sewing basket and not actually a purse.  I found one at an antique store, and while it looked lovely in the glass showcase, it was light and flimsy to the touch, and the handle was so thin that I would be loathe to put so much as a makeup compact in it.  In photos, it appears to be an amazing specimen, but in real life it is a cheap sewing box.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask.  If something in the description is unclear, do not be afraid to ask the seller a question.  The response can bring you more than just an answer to your question: it can also tell you a bit about the seller.  A prompt response by someone who is happy to answer your question is always reassuring.  A seller who doesn’t answer is a good sign that he may not be a good communicator – a very bad thing, should the transaction go awry.  A short or unhelpful answer suggests that the seller is not interested in what he is doing, nor in his potential customers – personally, I like to avoid those.

Take Advantage of the Return Policy.  EBay has been pushing sellers to clearly articulate their return policies in their listings.  Many sellers will guarantee the authenticity of the item, and offer full returns if the buyer is not fully satisfied with the purchase.  This added bit of insurance lends credibility to the seller’s description, and if the purchase ultimately up to your expectations, you can take advantage of the return policy.

Scour the Feedback. Descriptive feedback with links to the actual item are available for recent eBay listings, so before you bid, do not hesitate to review the seller’s feedback.  Do buyers compliment the clarity of the descriptions and the buyer’s communication?  Does the seller primarily deal in vintage goods?  All of these things lend credibility to the seller and should be considered before bidding.

Research.  One of the great advantages of eBay is that you have the ability to comparison shop before making a decision on whether to bid on a particular item.  If a seller is listing a beautful frosted Charles S. Kahn lucite purse with carved lid, take a few moments to run a similar search through the completed auctions.  Seeing the prices that similar purses have fetched in the past can give you a good idea of what final price you can expect on your purse.

In my collection, my most beautiful lucite purses were purchased in person from dealers.  I was able to inspect the purses myself before buying them.  I have also spent the most money on those purses.  My best deals on lucite purses have come from eBay.  While I have been diligent in my research and have been very cautious in my purchses, I have fallen prey to two sellers who sold me “lucite” purses that ended up being something less than satisfactory.  I still purchase lucite purses on eBay, but I exercise even more caution now for the reasons described above.

I spend way too much time and probably a little too much money at Goodwill.  It was actually difficult to narrow down which of my many Goodwill purchses was the “Good Will Find of the Week.”  In the running were things like a lovely white and gold federal ashtray set, a beautiful old desk lamp, and some vintage Disney 78s, but in the end the 1957 edition of the Better Homes & Gardens Handyman’s Book won the day.

This spiral-bound book seriously has it all.  The inside cover features some handy measurement conversion charts.  The first chapter deals with planning out a workshop and hand tools.  Chapter Two looks at various power tools (complete with photos of some excellent vintage tools!).  Chapter Three covers building materials, while Four and Five cover fastening and finishing.  Plumbing, walls and floors, windows, and exterior work are all covered as well.  This book is inifinitely useful, and at just $1.99 at Goodwill, who could resist?

No one has money to spare these days, but just because you’ve tightened up the budget doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your love of vintage. With a little persistence and a little know-how, you can still pay 1950s prices for 1950s goods.

Goodwill is your friend. Goodwill and Salvation Army are great sources of vintage clothing, decor and household items. Become intimately familiar with your local thrift store. Learn which days they have sales, find out what days are best for certain items, and visit as often as you can. If you visit around Halloween, remember that vintage clothing is often lumped in with the Halloween costumes, so scour those racks of vampire capes and you may find yourself a diamond in the rough. With a little persistence and a lot of patience, there are definitely good deals to be found.

Don’t assume that something is expensive just because it is at the antique store. Antique stores, particularly those with multiple dealers, often have hidden treasures at good prices. It is easy to assume that just because something is at an antique store it has a big price tag attached, but that’s not always the case. Many of the multidealer antique stores will rent a space to anyone who can fill it and pay the monthly rental price, but that doesn’t mean they are antiques experts who have a good grasp on the real value of an item. I’ve purchased many items at antique stores for amazing prices just because the seller didn’t realize the value of her wares. Again, persistence and patience are key.

Be tolerant of a few flaws. A pristine lucite purse can cost upwards of $75, and many are priced in the hundreds of dollars. The same purse with a flaw – be it a small crack, a missing hinge, or other cosmetic damage – typically costs just a fraction of that. If you are willing to enjoy something that is slightly flawed, you can find yourself a bargain.

Learn to Sew. The price of a piece of clothing should reflect its condition, and often it is easy to find beautiful pieces marked down because of a weak hem or missing buttons. An easy few stitches can turn an unloved piece of clothing into something beautiful and wearable.

Scour Craigslist for a good deal. For the most part, the Collectibles and Furniture sections on Craigslist are filled with people hoping to make huge bucks on trash they cleaned out of their attic, but every so often someone really needs to get rid of an item and is willing to sell it for a reasonable price. Nearly two years ago we purchased a beautiful working Victrola in pristine shape for a mere $75.00 because the owners just didn’t have room for it. We were the first (of many!) to call, and we picked it up the same day.  Frequent Craigslist browsing can net you good deals.

Don’t be afraid to wheel and deal. Antique store dealers, Craigslist posters, and even your local thrift store may be willing to negotiate on their prices. I had spent weeks admiring an incredible coat at Goodwill that was priced at $99.00. After the coat sat unsold for a month, my husband approached the manager and offered her $50.00. The manager said she noticed the coat was older inventory and I went home with the coat for $50.00.  The last time I wore the coat to an antique show, one seller begged me to never, ever sell it because it was such an incredible specimen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Let people know what you like. Get friendly with the antique store owners, the Goodwill managers, and anyone you meet in the used goods market and let them know what kinds of things you are looking for, and be vocal about your budget. They may steer you in the right direction when you come in looking for your bargain-priced treasure.

Persistence and patience combined with a cheapskate heart can pay off!