The Renaissance saw the dawn of antiquing when affluent European collectors began acquiring interesting rarities. The development of the arts and the science of archaeology lured 18th century societies to collect heirlooms such as books, possessions, and mementos left by family members. Antiques are not only valued for their quality and history, but also for their connection to families.
Antiques is a broadly used word. According to the Federal Trade Commission, an item must be at least 100-years old to qualify as an antique. Vintage, collectible, and retro are more suitable terms when describing younger artifacts. Regardless of its true meaning, antique shops across the country are known as ideal places for hunting treasures.
Antiquing is a volatile industry, but when high-quality heirlooms fall out of favor, the price reduction opens the door to opportunity for avid collectors. Antiquing also attracts sustainability-minded individuals who appreciate minimalism and artifact repurposing versus buying mass-produced items.
“Our customers are of all ages and come from all over the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin, because they like our prices,” said Mia Garza, daughter of Carmen and the late Leo Garza, owners of Jackson Street Antiques in downtown Harlingen, since 2002. Mia learned the trade from her parents and represents the next generation of vendors, along with her sister Victoria. Mia also manages Modern – Vintage Apparel inside Jackson St. Antiques. Vintage clothing is big among the 20- to 40-year-old crowd, according to the Antique & Decorative Arts Annual Survey. “Vintage Apparel is my idea of balancing new and old. Vintage clothes were made to last and, when used creatively, they can be a strong statement in any outfit,” said Mia.
A Public Improvement District established in 1989, the Jackson Street District is the nerve center for antiquing in the Rio Grande Valley. Its mission is to foster economic growth. Its revitalization program is a private and public partnership funded by the city and property owners who voted to tax themselves to generate revenue for improvements such as landscaping, signage, and storefront enhancements. Today, visitors can browse and shop at ten antique and vintage shops in one stop. They can also enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or a cup of coffee at different venues located on and near Jackson Street.
The 50th anniversary of the moon landing brough a multitude of collectors seeking the event’s memorabilia and mid-20th-century modernism objects, which are still high on the list of coveted items. “Midcentury Modern pieces go fast, especially furniture. The clean lines go with everything and are ideal for eclectic interior décor,” said Mia, who additionally administers interior design and estate sale services.
The popular farmhouse design trend spurred the interest in glass kitchenware such as Jadeite and Milk Glass, also popular in the mid-20th century. Modern reproductions abound, but collectors fancy the vintage items they identify by their markings and weight. The original pieces glow in the dark, for some companies used uranium in their production. Depression glass, silverware, and linens are among other favorite collector’s items.
For over 13 years, Joey Gallego has owned and operated Joey’s Antiques in Pharr. He specializes in unique and one-of-a-kind collector items and home décor. “My specialty is designing man caves, incorporating high dollar collectibles and conversation pieces such as neon signs, slot machines, and vintage signs of all types,” said Joey. His clientele comes from all over the Valley and the Austin area. When not at the store, Joey scouts the region in search of treasures. He sees buying collectibles not as an expense, but as an investment and a bitter-sweet experience, for he said it is hard to let go of some of them.
Over in Weslaco, four antique shops line Texas Avenue, in downtown. Mimi Kimberlin opened the doors of Mimi’s Attic 22 years ago. “We have items from the early 1800s to the 1970s. Customers from across the state shop with us locally and online,” said Mimi. Her inventory includes a wide variety of expensive and low-cost merchandise. Vintage Christmas ornaments and vintage fashion jewelry are in high demand during the holidays. “The people of the Valley love antiquing. That is why we have been in business for this long,” said Mimi. Neighboring antique shops include the Weslaco Antique Mall, the White Rabbit Vintage Shoppe, and El Mercado.
According to the experts, a piece’s value is dependent on its quality, rarity, condition, and desirability. Heirlooms with an interesting history, owned by someone famous or available in limited quantities increase in value.
The pandemic forced some Valley antique shops to close temporarily, and some others thrived. Nevertheless, the underlying value of antiquing in the Valley is the opportunity to support locally owned businesses, while discovering the thought-provoking stories behind treasures from the past.