“Are we there yet?” my mother, riding shotgun, asked as we made the final stretch of the 220-mile trek to Canton, an hour east of Dallas. We were joining thousands of other antique pickers in their pilgrimage to the city’s First Monday Trade Days, the oldest event of its kind in the entire country.
The gathering—which takes place the weekend (Thursday through Sunday) before the first Monday of every month—has been attracting crowds since the 1850s. And what began as a meetup where Van Zandt County’s rural residents could trade livestock, crops and goods has evolved into a massive marketplace filled with tents and pavilions where 6,000-plus vendors sell everything from antique dressers and collectable cookware to build-your-own-crosses and inflatable outdoor hot tubs.
Canton is home to just 3,500 residents, but more than 100,000 shoppers descend here for First Mondays. Off the town’s main thoroughfare, North Trade Days Boulevard, we paid $5 to park and enter the colossal fairgrounds, joining an orderly stampede of shoppers pulling rolling carts and riding those rented scooters you see in amusement parks. (You’ll want to bring a wagon of some variety to transport your loot. Trust us.)
People take their shopping very seriously here. It’s common to see groups of women celebrating birthdays or reunions, many wearing shirts with matching slogans: “God Made, Jesus Saved, Texas Raised” and “Pardon My French Doors but Holy Shiplap.”
The fairgrounds are home to permanent pavilions, called arbors, where vendors hawk newer items such as painted holiday yard art, slow-cooker soup kits, and the latest multi-level marketing pyramid trends (hello, essential oils). Our advice to pickers: avoid the arbors. Instead, head for the open-air fields in the back by the civic center, where rows and rows of temporary tents are always filled with treasures, including antique furniture (Mom scored an oak nightstand with extra patina), Americana collectables (I took home two vintage Coca-Cola bottle crates), and mid-century favorites (why didn’t I buy that Jadeite glassware?).
It takes more than one weekend—and one month’s paycheck—to peruse every nook and cranny at First Mondays. “We’re still not done?” Mom asked fretfully, tired out but not wanting to miss anything. What if we passed up that one vendor possessed of the perfect buffet lamps she’d been hunting for? We’d just have to come back, I told her. But first, we’re getting matching T-shirts.
Stay the night
Conveniently located near the fairgrounds, The Mountain at Old Mill Marketplace is a quirky collection of boutiques, live music venues and hotels that resembles a Wild West town. For a rustic retreat, try the property’s Cedar Flats Inn, which not only offers tip-top Texan hospitality, but also (highly coveted) free parking.
Where to eat
After a morning shopping, take your lunch break on the fairgrounds at Double Bubbas (903-275-8537), where the fried baloney sandwich is a must. Yes, there will be a line; yes, it’s worth the wait. On a schedule? Grab a hand-dipped corn dog from one of the grounds’ vendors.
Beyond the fairgrounds
Canton boasts top antique destinations that are open year-round, including Timeless Treasures (903-567-6762) and East Texas Pickins. Stop for a BLT and a side of fried green tomatoes at local favorite Buttermilk’s Cafe.
Other area destinations
Scenic Henderson County offers lots of picking opportunities. Wagon Wheel Antiques in Murchison boasts 12,000 square feet of estate jewelry, collectables, and great antique furniture (and prices!). Lindy Antique Mall in Malakoff is another unassuming treasure trove; if “shabby chic” is your language, rest assured they speak it too. Stay the night at The Geranium House in Athens, a bed and breakfast whose charming bistro serves lunch and high tea.
Elsewhere in East Texas, Tyler also offers prime picking. Expect to score big at Ye Olde City Antique Mall in the town’s historic downtown, whose dozens of dealers hawk wares Victorian and modern. And the name says it all at Vintage Hip Marketplace, a junkers’ playground packed with one-of-a-kind finds, repurposed furniture and lots of farmhouse-inspired décor. Complete the experience with a stay at Kiepersol Estates B&B, which offers antique-style furnishings and an attached winery.
Palestine’s Main Street is home to Duncan Depot Antiques, a 10,000-square-foot storefront offering everything from reclaimed-wood armoires to retro dinette sets. Worked up a sweet tooth? Grab a slice of buttermilk pecan pie from the award-winning Oxbow Bakery before settling in at the Bar S Ranch Resort.