MOUNT DORA, Fla. — “Just about gotten warm enough to doze, huh?” the tall, thin man asked the fellow whose height could not be determined with certainty because he was slouched in a comfy-looking, antique office chair.
“Yep,” said the sitting man, “and as few shoppers as I’ve had, I might as well doze. Or maybe close.”
Perhaps hoping he could make both of them happier, the standing man said, “Got any early Floridian, anything with citrus?”
“If I do, I don’t know of it,” responded the man in the chair.
But chances are, the situation changed shortly for both, because their conversation took place at one of the Southeast’s largest markets for collectibles and antiques.
It was during the annual, mid-February event known as a Renningers Promotions “extravaganza”. These sprawl across 117 acres of former pasture in January, February and November. More than 1,000 dealers display their merchandise on everything from commercial shelving to banana shipping cartons to blankets on the grass.
The result: If you want a sample of some consumer good that was manufactured in the past 150 years or so, you can probably find it here:
/ Fancy a shipping crate with its contents label – in German – pasted inside and containing the original enamel sterilizing dishes for medical use? There are three crates, next to the stack of unused bedpans.
/ Need a heavy copper box decorated with gobs of colored glass and stamped on the bottom “Tiffany Studios, New York, N.Y.”? The price tag says $1,200, but ask the seller. the usual gambit for bargaining: “Can you do any better on this?”
/ Wish that Grandma had saved that stack of magazines in the attic, like the one from May 1892 headlining the story behind “Boy industrialist Leland Stanford opens a new college out West?” It is in the carton just in front of the 1901 book William McKinley, Our Martyred President.
/ Want an unused wooden washboard or galvanized zinc pail? Right over there.
/ Decrepit outboard motors? Lacrosse stick? A package of 100 brochures ($60) promising “What You Should Know About George C. Wallace”?
All are here, along with arrowheads, ice cream scoops, imprinted ashtrays (“Danny’s Hideaway, Across From the Dogtrack”), other people’s wedding photos and baby photos — even funeral photos.
Concerned that your supply of Smurf drinking glasses is low? Here’s a set of six for $21.
If you agree that FDR was the Man of the Hour, you’ll want to make an offer on the foot-tall electric mantle clock that bears that legend beneath a sculpture of the (standing) president grasping a ship’s wheel.
“Is that harpoon real? How-much-is-it-where’d-you-get-it?”
“Well, the metal tip is real, but we made up the shaft and attached new rope to it. These came from Nova Scotia, off old whaling ships, ’cause you can’t whale no more.”
The extravaganzas – that’s the official name – are operated by Renningers Promotions, long-established in this collectibles/antiques/flea market niche. The company also stages major events in Pennsylvania, in Kutztown, King of Prussia and Adamstown.
On the hilly land just outside Mount Dora, about 40 minutes north of Orlando, the company rents enclosed, air-conditioned space year-round to about 200 dealers of pricier items. Every weekend, even more dealers set up their wares for a flea market/farmers market.
And every third weekend, about 400 vendors come to Renningers’ pasture for an “antiques fair’’, held under covered pavilions and spilling onto the grounds.
But it is the extravaganzas that make visiting an experience.
If you come looking for something specific — antique toys, fancy dinnerware, militaria, lapel pins from the former USSR – it takes stamina, just to walk up and down all the aisles, up and down all the hills.
If you are a comparison shopper, you would need to draw yourself a map — none are handed out at the site — to help you return to favored booths.
For serious shoppers, Renningers sells three-day passes; otherwise, you can buy admission for any single day. Tickets are cheapest on Sunday, when some stuff is gone, some vendors pack up early to move on.
While many sellers are amateurs, maybe staging an estate sale, an untold number of shoppers and vendors are professional dealers. Many come south in the winter for the numerous weekend markets and evening auctions. Then the pros head back north, to set up booths there.
Overheard, a conversation between two vendors:
“I don’t know what it is all of a sudden with champagne (ice) buckets, but last fall I was buying them as fast as I could. I was selling them for $50, and I made $5,000.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: Renninger Promotions’ Florida site is on U.S. 441 just east of Mount Dora and north of State Road 46, about 30 miles north of Orlando. There is an exit for 441/92/17 on Interstate 4 in Orlando.