Once November rolls around, it is admittedly tough to get a day—let alone a weekend—that isn’t jam-packed with social obligations and shopping lists. But a visit to the quaint town of Lambertville (about an hour from North Jersey) may be a worthwhile diversion to recharge your spirit and get in some off-the-beaten-path gift buying.
Time hasn’t exactly stopped in this lovely town with old-world charm on the banks of the Delaware River, but as you stroll past Victorian homes and eighteenth century churches, the pace here feels just slow enough to be refreshing.
If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, you’re in the right place to find unique selections. Pay a visit to the Blue Raccoon (6 Coryell Street) for items like chenille throws, sumptuous pillows, jazz CDs, jewelry, and furniture. If there is a coffee lover on your list, visit Rojo Roastery (243 N. Union Street) for small-batch, hard-to-find, fair-trade beans and brews. You’ll discover a host of one-of-a-kind gifts at antique spots like the year-round Golden Nugget Antique Market (see sidebar for “Back at the Ranch” columnist Pam Satran’s take on a recent visit) and American Designs (5 South Main Street). Or, schedule your visit when the Rago Arts & Auction Center (333 North Main Street) is holding a sale. You can raise your paddle for items such as authentic Stickley furniture, early twentieth-century art and photography, and jewelry. Most Mondays, Rago holds an appraisal day, so remember to bring along grandma’s pin to find out what it’s worth.
After a full day of shopping, stop at the year-old Wine Cellar at Lambertville Station (11 Bridge Street). Unwind in front of the magnificent stone fireplace in the cozy lounge located on the lower level of the full-service restaurant.There’s an extensive wine list, a tapas menu that includes artisan cheeses, lollipop lamb chops, smoked salmon bruschetta, and rabbit sausage. Finish up with the chef’s creative handmade chocolates.
Indulge a little more by staying the night at Lambertville Station, a nineteenth-century former train station that has been converted into a 45-room inn. Suites are appointed with period furnishings, fireplaces, flat-screen televisions, and sitting areas.
Seven Essential Rules for Shopping the Flea Market
By Pamela Redmond Satran
Rule Number One for shopping the Golden Nugget Flea Market in Lambertville is arrive early. Yes, even if, like me, you’re there more to have fun with your friend than to snag the best buys.
My pal Mary Jean and I, each traveling from opposite directions, met in Lambertville at 11 am—and found ourselves with barely an hour to tour the sprawling market before most dealers started packing up to go home, though the posted end time is 4 pm.
Despite the early shut-down time, the Golden Nugget is the very best kind of flea market: eclectic enough to be interesting, and inexpensive enough to satisfy the most dedicated bargain-hunter, with plenty of really good stuff.
You’ve got to take your time to go through the individual items in each booth, advised Mary Jean, a part-time antiques professional with a stall in the Monmouth Antiques Shoppes in Red Bank—a good Rule Number Two for an impatient browser like me. While I was zipping along, barely glancing at any table that didn’t exert an immediate attraction, Mary Jean zeroed in on what turned out to be the deal of the day: a gorgeous rustic wagon seat for $20.
You can almost always get things for less than the marked price at the flea market, advised Mary Jean: 10 percent less just for asking if the dealer can do better, 20 percent for asking nicely. So Rule Number Three is to drop the tough bargaining stance and smile, chat, and even flirt instead.
But if you love something and know it’s hard to find, don’t sacrifice the deal for the sake of a few dollars: Rule Number Four. Employing Mary Jean’s thoroughness technique, I spied an oval sterling bangle on an unprepossessing table. It was the near-twin of my very favorite bracelet, one I’d been looking for years to duplicate.
Rule Number Five is to decide, ideally before you hit the market, that you’re going to spend that outing looking primarily at jewelry, or vintage clothing, or primitives. Without a focus, it’s too easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted.
Keeping with my silver theme, my only other purchase was a set of silver-plated forks, tarnished and monogrammed with someone else’s initials, but in the flat-handled style I like and only $5 for seven. “They’ll polish up nice,” the dealer told me, and though I didn’t completely believe him, I was thrilled to discover once I got the forks home that he was right.
I had doubts about an enormous linen tablecloth: beautiful but, even for $8, I figured if those gravy stains hadn’t come out over the past few decades, they wouldn’t now. No matter how cheap, nothing’s a bargain if you can’t use it.
I loved the big German railway letters, in my own initials, but couldn’t imagine laying out $60 for a narcissistic design element. I similarly decided that the 1840 schoolgirl’s sampler for $300, the burled wood boxes for $160, and the haunting oil painting at $150 were simply too expensive for things whose provenance I couldn’t document. Rule Number Six is if you’re going to pay big, you better be sure what you’re buying.
Mary Jean’s major purchase was a shell sculpture for $40. It had exactly the kind of funky charm she could sell in her stall—or happily take home if no one else found the piece as alluring as she did. She bypassed a metal rolling cart she knew she could resell but didn’t really love, along with mid-century pieces she knew were in style but didn’t speak to her own mid-century soul. And of course, not everything at the Golden Nugget was something you’d want to take home. The old family photo scrapbooks made me sad. And the bullets as long as my arm? I don’t want to meet the person who collects those.
Rule Number Seven, then: Don’t regret the flea market mistakes you made today. There’s always another flea market.