There has been a long, strong tradition of outdoor Flea Markets and Antique Shows in the East. Shows such as the Brimfield in Massachusetts have been in operation since the 1950s. But, since the early-mid 2000s, I have been fascinated by the whole idea of the Northwest outdoor antique shows. The NW versions seem to be part show, part event and part theme oriented entertainment.
In about 2005, our friends, Dave and Lori Richmond, heard about an indoor/outdoor antique show in Fairfield, Washington. They thought that it was called the Farm Chicks Show. We made plans to go to it and we weren’t disappointed.
Our drive from Walla Walla took us on small roads through miles of rural wheat fields. It set the tone for the friendly laidback show. There were vendors everywhere—in a great huge circus type tent, in the Grange Hall and in a city park.
It was a glorious sunny fall day… just the type of day that makes you think, “This could be the last best day of year!” The sun warmed our shoulders and the event warmed our antique/vintage souls.
Eventually the Farm Chicks Show transitioned from Fairfield to an early June show at the Spokane Fairgrounds. The show became wildly popular and is well known as a source for all things rustic and especially farm-found, all presented in well-curated themed displays.
While the Farm Chicks Show may not have been the first show of its type in the Northwest, it set the standard for shows to follow. Now, almost every weekend of the summer, there is an outdoor or an indoor/outdoor show. They all seem to have one or more of the following descriptors in their name: junk, barn, vintage, prairie, farm, picking, country, rusty, and rustic, to name a few.
So what is a vintage or junk sale and why are they currently so popular? I had been struggling with that idea since my first visit to the Farm Chicks Show. I still had no clear idea prior to participating in the June 2016 Love of Junk sale held just outside of Walla Walla.
My business, Shady Lawn Antiques, had participated in dozens of antique shows over the years and I had a mental template for how to prepare for them. I knew what type of items to take. And I could immediately visualize what our booth would look like. The same wasn’t true when we signed up for the Love of Junk sale. My mind bounced from item to item that we should create/build, refinish and/or take.
In retrospect, my inability to identify what a junk show was probably means that there actually is no clear definition. After it became obvious that there was no way to predict what show attendees might like, we decided that we just had to be ourselves…
We packed up reclaimed wood furniture (that we build), refinished furniture, and unusual antique finds. We added a number of items from a farm find from earlier in the summer. Then we dug into our storage and came up with some “rough materials” to take to the show. These items included old skeleton keys, faucet handles, cast iron gears, pulleys, wheels, rusty metal rings and galvanized tubs and pails. The plan worked out because both the farm stuff and the rough items were steady sellers at the show.
The few items that we took back to Shady Lawn Antiques continued to sell, but at a much slower rate. This observation may be the clue to what a “junk sale” is all about. Show attendees seemed focused on finding old, unique and antique items that they could use, decorate with or repurpose into something else. One person even remarked, “I’m going to buy this piece but I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it.”
It now seems to me that the allure of the “vintage farm junk sale” is twofold.
The first is the attraction of the event itself. The Love of Junk sale features a serene country setting with an expansive manicured grass field, shade trees, live music, fresh hot food vendors and, of course, vendors with piles of treasures. Although it is different than the Fairfield, Farm Chicks Show that so impressed me over ten years ago, it has the important similar things in common.
The second part is the thrill of the hunt. We have the opportunity to search farms and ranches for antique and vintage ‘treasures.’ A huge attraction of the outdoor vintage antique show/sale is that it provides an opportunity to dig through piles of rough stuff in search of treasures. This is as close as many will get to being able to search through old farms.
So the allure of the NW vintage farm junk sale is the combination of the show setting, the theme oriented displays and entertainment—and especially the thrill of the hunt…
Dave Emigh and his wife Jill are the owners of Shady Lawn Antiques in Walla Walla, WA, perfectly located in the 1870s wood frame creamery buildings that Dave’s great-grandfather purchased in 1897. A professionally trained woodworker, Dave and his son, Nick, specialize in the restoration of oak furniture. Shady Lawn, in its 25th year, has become a regional destination for oak furniture but is also known for a well-curated display of country, rustic, and rare and unique “small” antiques. Glimpses of the ever-changing Shady Lawn inventory can be seen on Facebook and at www.shadylawnantiques.com.