Tea cups and toys. Stoneware and glassware. Elegant dining room sets in cherry, oak and mahogany. Clocks and cupboards, paintings and prints. Silver spoons and vintage jewelry.
“We have everything, from soup to nuts,” says Lesley Ann Lewis, manager of Stone Soup Antiques Gallery.
“If you want to reproduce mom’s kitchen from the 1950s, we can do that. If you want your grandmother’s parlor from the Victorian era, we can do that too.”
Ballston Spa has become Saratoga County’s hub for antiques shopping and browsing, with more than 90 dealers in two large antiques centers and seven other smaller shops clustered on the main avenues.
The ambiance, convenience and close-knit business community of the historic village is attracting a steady stream of visitors from around the Capital Region, observers say.
“Ballston Spa has a cozy ‘villagey-look.’ It’s a nice atmosphere. Other places you go, the downtowns are empty,” says Pat Armet, an antiques dealer at Stone Soup. “People can do a day trip. You can send them a couple of blocks to lunch.”
Stone Soup Antiques Gallery
WHERE: 19 Low St., Ballston Spa
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily
“The word we hear from people is ‘quaint,’ ” says Sam Capuano, president of the Ballston Spa Business & Professional Association. “The different types of shops and places to eat. People love it.”
Brent Millington runs Ballston Spa Antique Center, the oldest antiques business in town, and has 47 dealers on two floors of a two-building complex in the old Steiner’s Hardware Store.
When he opened the Milton Avenue shop in 1985, there were only two other antiques stores.
“The village has come a long way,” says Millington.
Stone Soup has taken residence in the old Tufflite factory, a massive three-story building just a few steps from Wiswall Park and Front Street, near the heart of the village.
The group shop opened five years ago with 12 dealers on its first floor. Two years ago, it expanded to the second floor. Now it has 47 dealers and a waiting list for any spaces that open up.
“Typically, it takes a few years to get in,” says Lewis.
While the exterior of the building, with its formidable walls of dark red brick, is fairly nondescript, the inside is polished and handsome.
Dealers’ wares are neatly arranged in roomlike settings on an expanse of yellow pine floor.
The stairs to the second floor are carpeted and flanked with paintings and prints, and both floors are well-illuminated with track lighting and hanging lamps.
The dealers’ rooms are unattended, but there is always someone at the reception desk to answer questions or help shoppers take a closer look at an item.
“It’s eclectic,” says Armet, who points out one dealer’s Americana furniture, another with 19th century Chinese furnishings and yet another with more kitschy items.
“This man used to do dog shows,” she says, peering into a glass case. “He’s got a ton of dog-related items.”
Antiques must be pre-1900, and vintage collectibles are pre-1950.
“We don’t just let anyone in. We’re kind of picky,” says Lewis. “But not everyone is high-end and expensive. We try to have something for every budget.”
Dealers are also required to keep their merchandise fresh.
“You have to have what people are looking for. It changes all the time,” says Armet, who lives in the Washington County village of Cambridge and also sells at the antiques center there.
Stone Soup has 5,000 names on its mailing list, is on Facebook and has a website, but “word of mouth” brings most of its customers, says Lewis.
“The majority are age 40 and up, but we do get couples in their early 30s with small children.”
On a recent weekday morning, Michele Koester of Glenville, who goes antiquing all over the Capital Region, was looking around with two female friends.
“Stone Soup has a wide variety, and the items are reasonably priced,” says Koester.
“It’s really a lovely experience walking through here. It’s very pristine. And you see things from your childhood. We love coming to Ballston Spa, we love the charm of the village.”
Antiques dealers favor Ballston Spa for several reasons.
“It’s the rents. They are reasonable for these types of owners. They are doing it for the love of what they do,” says Capuano of the BSBPA.
Millington says some of the antiques dealers in Ballston Spa used to be in Saratoga Springs but left because of high rents.
“Antique dealers feel comfortable here. It’s small enough that you know everybody,” says Armet.
Dealers who don’t have time to run their own shop are drawn to Stone Soup and Ballston Spa Antique Center because someone else does the managing.
At Stone Soup, customers on the mailing list are invited to a spring open house, when dealers set up a booth and offer refreshments. The next one is scheduled June 1 and 2.
“It’s a way for customers to meet the dealers,” says Lewis.
Earlier this month, Stone Soup, Ballston Spa Antique Center and five other antiques shops held a weekend Antiques Extravaganza, with discounts, drawings and refreshments.
Ballston Spa’s annual “The Way They Were” antique car show, held every October, also brings people into the shops.
“There is definitely a cooperativeness,” says Capuano.
“If one shop doesn’t have an item that someone is looking for, they will recommend another shop. If someone is going antiquing, they are going to love being in an area with several stores in one area.”
According to Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, “the level of coordination is quite extraordinary. They do a lot of co-op advertising and promotion.”
Working together benefits everyone, says Millington.
“The more shops in an area, the better it is,” he says. “There’s more diversity for people. You’re not going to find the same item for the same price in the same condition.”