Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas is a young city, but it’s rich in history. Just about everywhere you turn, there are reminders of our past: old neon signs, mob memorabilia, cowboy collectibles, Art Deco adornments and relics from the gold rush.
Vegas Vic smiles Downtown. Vintage slot machines glow at Main Street Station. Frank Sinatra’s keepsakes shine at Encore. Gangster guns menace at the Mob Museum.
But nowhere in Southern Nevada does history meld and come together as in the Valley’s myriad second-hand stores and lesser-known consumer spots. Likely nowhere else in the country can you find vintage casino soaps, Paiute jewelry, ’50s swing skirts and Victorian decor all steps away from one another.
In a city that’s often fast to implode and replace the old with the new, our antique malls, vintage stores and thrift shops are among the best around. And they give everyday Las Vegans a chance to bring a piece of history into their homes.
Whether you’re looking to revive an era long gone, tackle a refurbishing project, save a bit of money on home decor or simply reduce, reuse and recycle, Las Vegas’ shops are a thrifter’s dream come true.
Finding a great antique—or even a good reproduction—takes time and research. Learning the characteristics that define eras, workmanship and quality will make your bargaining much easier. Pay attention to the details when examining a piece of furniture that appears to be an antique. Research online and talk to experts to learn some of the many visual giveaways that separate a quality piece from run-of-the-mill items, and you’ll be on the path to great discoveries. Here are a few hints to get you started.
Workmanship clues can help you determine when and how a piece was made:
• Try to find a mark, label or tag. Most factory-made furniture items will include some sort of identifier.
• Remove a drawer if possible to study where the front and back of the drawer are fastened to the sides. Hand dovetails will be minimal and uneven, and indicate a piece was made before 1860 when joints began to be machine cut.
• Look for saw marks. If they are circular or arc-shaped, rather than straight, the wood was likely cut by a circular saw, which gained widespread use after about 1880.
• Small nicks and cuts near the inside joints of a piece indicate it was probably cut with a plane, spokeshave or drawknife. In other words, it was made by hand.
Identifying other items:
• Antique pottery, porcelain and glassware pieces also often feature a maker’s mark. Guides abound online to help decode the shapes, letters and symbols.
• Pay attention to the patterns on glassware, which can help date an item.
• Expect some wear and tear, such as discoloration or fading. Even an item that’s sat on a shelf for decades will likely have scratches on its base.
• Retro Vegas, 1131 S. Main St., Las Vegas, 702-384-2700. Retro Vegas is a mid-century modernist’s dream. The store is full of vintage furniture, lighting, art and collectibles, including memorabilia from imploded casinos and long-ago shuttered Vegas sites. Upstairs is a huge selection of vintage clothes, shoes and accessories. Fun fact: Most of Retro Vegas’ pieces are available for short-term rental.
• Charleston Antique Mall, 560 S. Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas, 702-228-4783. A maze of all things antique and collectable: jewelry, furniture, toys, crystal, clothing and more. The mall’s 60-plus vendors stock items that run the calendar of eras, from Victorian decor to vintage pinups to ’90s kitsch. Most items are reasonably priced, vendors often are willing to negotiate and the mall offers frequent sales, most recently 15 percent off during President’s Day weekend.
• Sherman’s House of Antiques, 1228 Arizona St., Boulder City, 702-293-1818. Peruse a wide variety of antiques from across the state. A mainstay in Boulder City, Sherman’s stocks vintage clothing, fine china, antique furniture, vintage and costume jewelry, classic toys and much more. There’s something for everyone!
• Antique Mall of America, 9151 S. Las Vegas Blvd. #344, Las Vegas, 702-933-2791. Find your next treasure here. Vendors fill 43,000 square feet of shopping space and feature antiques and collectibles from around the world. Score a quick bargain or save for a top-shelf prize. Rare items include collectible badges, antique pocket watches and antique furniture.
• Modern Mantiques, 1300 S. Main St. #120, Las Vegas, 702-445-7081. What are mantiques? Vintage tin toys, antique coin-operated machines, taxidermy animals, World War II memorabilia, historic firearms, vintage fishing lures, porcelain signs, cigar memorabilia and other collectibles that bring back memories of dads, grandpas and great grandpas. This store is full of them and well worth a visit.
Not sure where to go? Check out the valley’s unique antique quarters packed with back-to-back shops. Las Vegas’ 18b Arts District houses Antique Alley, lined with almost two dozen antique, vintage and retro boutiques. Head to Main Street, from Charleston Boulevard to just north of the Stratosphere. Boulder City, renowned for its antiquing, draws international visitors to its eclectic stores. Don’t miss Goatfeathers Emporium, Back in Thyme and the Boulder City Antique Market.
• Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet, 1717 S. Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas, 702-877-0087. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Celebrating 27 years in business, Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet offers a smorgasbord of shopping. You’ll find your typical clothing, furniture, handbags and toys here, but there’s a ton more: flowers and plants, pet supplies, leather goods, sporting equipment, perfume and cosmetics, luggage and electronics, to name just a few. There also are booths for services, including window tinting, palm reading, alterations, engraving and estate planning. The majority of items sold here are new, although antique alley does feature some vintage and second-hand goods.
• Broadacres Marketplace, 2930 N. Las Vegas Blvd., North Las Vegas, 702-642-3777. Hours: 4-11 p.m. Friday, 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Set on 44 acres, Broadacres Marketplace includes more than 1,100 vendor spaces, featuring antiques, collectibles and crafts, as well as new and used toys, shoes, clothing, household items, appliances and tools. Dozens of food vendors serve up a variety of multicultural fare, and concerts play multiple times a day.
If you plan to attend an in-house casino liquidation, go the first day and arrive early. Choice items, especially those that are branded, will go very quickly. You may have to wait in line, but it will likely be your only shot at getting certain goods.
As anyone who has lived in Southern Nevada for at least a few years knows, Las Vegas casinos change their look and branding often. That can be great news for bargain hunters. To make way for new furnishings and decor, casino operators typically auction off or sell the items they no longer need.
Fairly regularly, online clearinghouses sell top-shelf TVs, couches, beds and chairs, previously housed at Strip resorts, to the highest bidders for a fraction of the retail cost. Sometimes casinos open their doors to the public for a grab-and-buy free-for-all, as the Sahara did when it closed.
Where to look?
There are several local go-to auction sites for these types of online sales. Try nellisauction.com, morphy auctions.com, lvliquidators.com. Even if you don’t stumble on a casino liquidation, you’ll find thousands of other fun items to peruse.
How do you know when an auction will occur? Pay attention to the news. If you read a story about a resort closing, changing ownership or getting a renovation, chances are, a liquidation is coming. Start checking online for information and scour local auction houses for listings.
Online auction houses tend to be a bit cryptic with their titles. You’ll almost never see a listing that outright states the name of a casino or resort. Instead, look for telltale hints: “Five-star hotel renovation auction” or “Massive hotel/casino surplus liquidation auction.”
You don’t need a brick-and-mortar shop to score a good find. Online antique houses, thrift stores and marketplaces enable buyers to search nationwide for their perfect picks.
• Everything but the House: This estate sale marketplace features thousands of items in almost two dozen categories, including art, jewelry, collectibles, entertainment and fashion. The company sorts, catalogs, photographs and authenticates every item sold, so there’s an extra layer of protection for consumers. Bigger pieces must be picked up (the website lists locations and allows visitors to search by zip code); smaller items can be shipped.
• Ruby Lane is home to thousands of virtual shop owners who specialize in antiques, fine art and vintage items. Sellers are held to very specific standards for listings. For instance, antique porcelain and pottery must be at least 100 years old and valued at $50 or more, and reproductions are not permitted. The site receives 1.1 million unique visitors each month.
• Every piece is vintage, and every one has a story. This designer clearinghouse pulls from private collections and includes information about the history of each piece and its seller. Prices are higher than traditional online thrift stores but still a bargain considering the high-end labels and unique pieces featured.
Thrifting 101 (shopping tips)
Your donation, my joy
Now more than ever may be a good time to start thrifting. Thank Marie Kondo. The Japanese organizing expert, author and newly-minted Netflix star has inspired throngs of people to take stock of their possessions and purge any items that fail to “spark joy.” As a result, thrift store operators across the Valley and country have reported recent surges in donations and huge increases in inventory.
In a historic and transient town like Vegas, it’s no surprise our city is home to countless thrift stores. From corporate giants (Goodwill, Savers) to mom-and-pop shops (Castaways Resale Store, House of Bargains Thrift Store) to upscale haunts (Closet Couture High End Fashion Consignment Boutique, Trading Labels), Southern Nevada is a thrifter’s dream.
1. Don’t be afraid to leave empty-handed. You won’t find a gem every time.
2. Be prepared to invest some time. This applies to visiting different stores as well as perusing the racks. Some of the best finds might be tucked away or shelved in the wrong place.
How much should you pay?
To score a true bargain, never pay more than 20 percent of the full-price retail cost of an item. If something costs $20 retail, don’t pay more than $5.
3. Be strategic. Many avid thrifters focus on shops in more affluent areas, where they say quality and selection is better. Just be warned: Prices tend to be higher, too.
4. Look carefully and be selective. Are you willing to fix that torn the coat or wonky drawer? If not, pass.
5. Time your trips. Many stores offer extra discounts for seniors, veterans and students. Some feature colored-tag days with even more savings.
6. Don't get discouraged. Treasure hunting takes time!
Great second-hand finds:
These are typically foolproof buys from any thrift store, either for your own personal use or for trying to flip for a profit.
• Wood furniture. Paint or refinish a tired piece of furniture to give it new life. Keep it or try to sell it. Add new hardware to change the look.
• High-end or brand name apparel or accessories, especially if the tags are still attached.
• Kids clothing or toys
• Picture frames. Don't get turned off by an ugly picture or painting. The frame might still justify the buy.
• Athletic gear or supplies
• Vinyl records
• Halloween costumes
• Board games. Check to be sure no pieces are missing.
• Gently used tools
• Specialty items that are rarely or occasionally used.
Items to avoid second-hand
• Mattresses: Bacteria or bed bugs could be lurking.
• Car seats and bicycle helmets: There’s no way to tell whether the safety systems have been compromised. Car seats also come with expiration dates.
• Nonstick cookware: Flaking nonstick coatings can be toxic and pose a health risk.
• Cribs: With numerous recalls and changing standards, it’s safer to buy new.
• Halogen lights: Halogen bulbs burn hotter than LED and incandescent bulbs and can pose a fire risk.
• Shoes: They conform to a wearer’s feet, and everyone’s feet and gait are unique.
• Personal items: Think undergarments, swimsuits, makeup.
• Appliances or electronics you can’t test: There’s a good chance they won’t work.
• Anything that stinks: The smell could be coming from mold, chemicals, pet stains or any number of other sources you don’t want to introduce into your home.
Revive and resell
• Stain, paint, varnish, lacquer, patina or decoupage items
• Add chalkboard paint accents
• Change out hardware and knobs
• Replace feet or legs
• Remove doors or drawers
• Use accent colors to make detailing pop
• Adorn with metal, twine, glass or leather
• Recover cushion or seats
In our consumer-driven, throw-away society, refurbishing old furniture can be a great way to go green, save money and breathe new life into items. Refurbishing also can be a fun and relaxing hobby for people of all ages. Once your project is complete, keep the piece for yourself, or try to find a buyer for it.
Turn your hobby into a business
Most antique and thrift store shoppers do it for the thrill of the find and the joy of bringing home a beautiful (or soon to be beautiful with a little elbow grease) piece. For some, the hobby becomes a side hustle. Here’s what to keep in mind if you plan to try to flip your finds:
1. Know the value of an item. Do your research before you buy. Be sure there’s enough of a spread between the purchase price and a realistic sale price to make the buy worthwhile.
2. Be reasonable and unemotional. You may love an item, but that doesn’t mean buyers will. Be sure there is a market for what you plan to sell. Compare similar items to narrow down a reasonable sales price.
3. Condition matters. Unless you are confident in your abilities to make major repairs, stick to items that need a simple facelift, not a complete overhaul.
4. Clean, clean, clean. You’ll get a higher price and a quicker sale if you dust, wash and polish items before you list them. A simple coat of paint can work wonders.
5. Don’t forget about shipping. When considering your potential profit, be mindful that you’ll likely have to pay shipping costs or pass them onto the buyer, which may mean a lower sale price.
Beware: Refurb with care
What you need
Keep these items handy for your projects:
• Wood cleaner, rubbing alcohol, liquid detergent, rags for cleaning
• Electric sander, high-grit sandpaper, low-grit sandpaper for removing old varnish, lacquer and paint
• Wood putty, putty knife for filling in dents, dings, cracks and holes
• Primer to help paint stick. Pro tip: Use gray primer for dark-colored paint and white primer for light-colored paint.
• Paint or stain to give your piece a new look
• Varnish to seal paint, protect surfaces and add shine. Pro tip: Remove white rings on wood caused by hot mugs or sweating glasses with petroleum jelly. Slather the mark and let the jelly sit overnight. The oil in the petroleum jelly will penetrate the finish and disguise the ring.
While just about anyone can tackle a furniture refurbishing project, novices should keep in mind some potential hazards that can come with the job.
The chemicals needed to strip wood for refinishing can be extremely noxious. Be sure to always wear a mask, protective eyewear and gloves, and work in a well-ventilated space.
Ditto for sanding. Dust and fine particles of wood are easily inhaled and can wreak havoc your lungs. If you plan to do a significant amount of sanding, consider investing in a dust collector.
Foam cushioning used in sofas and chairs often are laden with toxic flame retardants. Avoid ripping or tearing the cushions, work in a ventilated area and wear a mask.
Steer clear of refurbishing items that you suspect may contain lead or asbestos. Exposure to both can be extremely hazardous to your health. The items are perfectly safe to sit undisturbed on a shelf or in a curio cabinet. Just leave them be without a makeover.
Where to find items?
Garage sales and retail thrift stores can yield some success, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Offer to take unused items off of your friends’ hands. Check curbs and dumpsters. Look online for people giving away items for free.