If it's Father's Day, then this must be Walnut
The Annual AMVETS Antique Show has a devoted following, while still enthralling first-time visitors
by Leigh Elmore
The streets are full of teasures in Walnut, Iowa during the annual AMVET Antique Show.
If there's any topic of conversation at the annual AMVETS Antique Show in Walnut, IA more common than the price of this or that treasure that sold, it's the weather. The scores of wind-turbine generators that surround the town indicate that the winds in southwest Iowa are very reliable. While there have been tornado scares during past shows, this year the weather cooperated for the 32nd annual three-day event held over Father's Day weekend, June 13-15. Friday and Sunday experienced perfect sunny days in the low 80s. On Saturday the wind gusted throughout the day and a few ominous crashes could be heard as some unlucky dealers experienced some damage. But the rain held off until overnight and as mentioned, Sunday dawned perfectly.
"This is a three-day show simply because the weather can be so unpredictable," said Gene Larson, commander of the Walnut AMVETS post and show administrator.
"Shoppers can look at the weather and might skip one day, but they are able to come the next day instead. We require that the dealers be present all three days." Once again tiny Walnut, Iowa proved itself to be "The Antique City" as about 30,000 eager antiquers and bargain hunters flocked to this town of 900 souls located about 45 miles east of Omaha, NE on Interstate 80.
More than 300 dealers from across the country annually count on the Walnut AMVETS Antique Show as one of the "must do" shows in the Midwest. Plus, the town is home to 14 antique and vintage shops in its own right.
The turn-of-the-century buildings, brick and tree lined streets, country hospitality and Walnut's own permanent malls and shops are a perfect setting for the show and the fact that it is held on Father's Day weekend makes it a memorable time to hold one of the largest antique show in the region. Turn of the century streetlights line the main street and flags flew briskly on every one. The city workers and AMVETS improve the street condition and layout every year, Larson reported.
Iowa dealer Phil Taylor has been attending the Walnut show for nine years.
Phil Taylor of Phil Taylor Antiques of Ottumwa, IA has been a full-time dealer for 35 years, specializing in Mission oak furniture. "I've been coming to Walnut for nine years. The show still draws a huge crowd, so the potential for selling is good," he said. "It helps to broaden my market," noting that the most motivated buyers arrive early on Friday to try to snap up some high quality items before someone else does.
Larson, while acknowledging the early rush for sales, says that the show's contract with dealers ensures that shoppers will have plenty to choose from for the entire three days. "The dealers probably do make most of their money on Friday," he said. "But we don't let them go home, so Sunday is still a great day for shoppers to come and experience the Walnut show."
Another aspect of the Walnut show that plays in shoppers' favor is the high quality of merchandise that dealers need to get into the show, which has a waiting list every year.
"We probably had about 35 dealers new to the show this year, which helps add to the huge diversity of antiques and collectibles," Larson said. Show organizers enlist a few "secret shoppers" to work the show and determine if any dealers are selling commercial items or trying to pass off reproductions as real antiques. "We'll have to weed out four or five after this year's show. But we have to do it or it could all turn into a flea market," Larson said.
Dealers line both sides of Antique City Drive for five long blocks. This view is in the downtown section of Walnut, IA.
"Many shoppers remark that it is enjoyable to browse without having to waste valuable time sorting through reproductions, crafts and just plain junk." Larson said that AMVETS is keeping the number of dealers at 310 and not growing the show in the future just to be able to keep the quality level enforceable. The lifelong resident of Walnut is in his ninth year as AMVETS post commander, which entails heading up the show's planning and execution each year. Larson freely admits that he has no expertise in the antiques trade. "I enlist the experts who help us enforce quality," he said. "What I know about is handling people and how to administer the show."
Involving the community
In addition to bringing thousands of people and dollars to town one weekend a year, it allows the people of Walnut, its churches and civic organizations a chance to profit from all the activity.
The Walnut Volunteer Fire Dept. earns enough money from its "Fireman's Breakfast," held each morning of the show to support its budget for special events. "Three of our churches staff food stands, which really helps out with their annual operating budgets," said Larson.
A young entrepreneur with a lemonade stand takes advantage of the antiquing crowds in front of his house in a residential block.
"One thing is for sure," said dealer Phil Taylor, "Walnut has the best food of any show I've ever worked." Visitors can find everything from roast pork, spaghetti, brats, hamburgers, scalloped potatoes and ham, homemade ice cream, funnel cakes and frozen fruit-bars. There are also some fine restaurants in the area, with two located downtown and a bakery. The show literally takes over the town with dealers lined along both sides of Atlantic Street and Antique City Drive, which are the primary streets through the downtown area, while encompassing several cross streets and various indoor venues including the community school. Horse mounted volunteers direct parking on the north side of town and the roads leading from the south are lined with parked cars by noon each day.
"If you are a resident of Walnut, you either work the show or you get out of town," Larson said. "This is a different kind of show than many. We develop a real sense of teamwork between the townspeople and most of our dealers. There's real grassroots support." Pam Schirm, now of Grayson, KS, was originally from Walnut. "I had a shop in Walnut for 40 years, but sold it recently and I now have a booth in The Barn Mall," one of the permanent local vintage venues. "I've been doing this show since the beginning. Nobody in Walnut sleeps on this weekend. Everybody is involved with some chore relating to the show," she said.
Jack and Shirley Drake operate a corn and soybean farm five miles south of town and they've never missed a show since it was founded in 1982. "We're here for the Fireman's Breakfast," said Drake, who is also the state representative for Walnut. "The whole community gets behind this event every year." Cheryl True, with her husband, Tom, own TrUe JuNk, specializing in garden furniture and Shabby Chic and offer their own line of chalk paint. "We've done the show for 20 years," Cheryl said. "It's good for all of Walnut's organizations. And for some of our permanent merchants, this weekend makes their year."
The dealers keep returning
Kansas City dealer Elizabeth Johnson shows off some of her "eclectic smalls" in one of the indoor venues.
Kansas City resident and dealer Elizabeth Johnson secured a coveted indoor booth on one of the downtown blocks after doing the show for only four years. She grew up "in the business" as her parents operated a shop in Concordia, MO for many years. Specializing in "eclectic smalls," Johnson only sells through antique shows. "I do about 30 shows a year and Walnut is one of the top ones that I do," she said, noting that she stays within a six-hour drive of Kansas City while on the show circuit.
"The fact that it's free to the public is very important," in keeping the crowds up, she said.
Over on Antique City Drive dealer Myron Weiss has an assortment of German and Norwegian artifacts including folk art and Dresden Christmas ornaments. He does business as Division Street Antiques in Buffalo, MN. "I sold my shop 10 years ago and now I only do shows," he said. "It's a way of keeping in touch with the market, which seems to be coming back. I've been doing this show for so many years that I've lost count." And for Bob and Nadine Law of Adel, IA, retail dealers, "this is the only show that we do. This is our sixth year," Nadine said. "We had an excellent day on Friday and have restocked day to day since." Their Garden Gate Antique shop in Adel is open by appointment.
A show of shows
And what do the shoppers think? Julie Reed of Kansas City is a freelance graphic designer and has attended the Walnut show "for at least 14 years," she said. "I look for buttons, old books, old ephemera – anything I can use to make stuff with," as she describes her repurposing avocation.
"I also like wire stuff, McCoy vases with their many different colors, figures of Scotties and antique lace." Reed maintains an Etsy.com site to sell her crafts and writes a blog about her antiquing expeditions at www.juliereed.com
Jack Drake, Walnut area farmer and local state representative, never misses the Fireman's Breakfast, each morning of the show. The Walnut Volunteer Fire Department's vintage fire engine is in great shape.
She wrote: "The best way to start your day at Walnut is to treat yourself to a pancake breakfast at the Walnut firehouse. After a hearty breakfast, it is time to decide where to start – the two main streets are lined with vendors, there are several indoor venues with visiting vendors and then there are several antique malls and shops as well – plenty to keep you busy! This is truly a show where there is something for everyone." Mary Anderson Tomcik with husband Ron own ML Fancy Antiques in the Mid-Town Antique Mall in Stillwater, MN. "We love this show and we see a lot of repeat customer from previous years," she said. "We like it down here because of the quality and large variety of items. Whatever anyone collects, they can find it here in Walnut."
Lorraine, my Dresden ornament-collecting wife and first-timer at Walnut, has a bunch of them stuffed in her purse. You can bet she'll be back with a carload of girlfriends next June.
For ongoing news about the Walnut AMVETS Antique Show go to www.WalnutAntiqueShow.com Next year's show is set for June 19-21, 2015.
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at email@example.com
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