A comprehensive guide to vintage buying and browsing
by Danielle Davies
As a National Historic Landmark, the City of Cape May is arguably an antique itself, albeit not one that can be collected. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to find that special something—a vintage sofa, heirloom broach or rare porcelain—to bring home as a souvenir from your Cape May vacation. All you have to do is be ready for an adventure.
The thing about antique shopping is that it’s not a one-and-done experience—the thrill is in the hunt itself! Heading from shop to shop, dealer to dealer, antique shopping is as much about searching for something you need as stumbling across something you never knew you wanted. From solo antique shops to multi-dealer establishments, it takes all kinds of stops to satisfy an antique hunt, and if you know where to look, it’s almost always rewarding.
The following is our guide for antique shopping in Cape May. Whether you follow the list in order, or choose to hit them randomly, be sure to visit each one for an eclectic and worthwhile collection of vintage wares in a variety of styles.
TreeHouse Antiques of Cape May
Located on Seashore Road, TreeHouse Antiques of Cape May is a must-stop on your quest for vintage finds. Tucked among the greenery—and wonderfully close to the Cold Spring Brewery—the bright yellow exterior of TreeHouse Antiques is impossible to miss. The building isn’t a traditional retail space. Instead, TreeHouse Antiques is housed in an early 20th-century house that has served as a doctor’s home, a music school, a day care center, and most recently, this antique shop.
Susan and Wayne Stewart purchased the building, which was already operating as TreeHouse Antiques, just after they moved to West Cape May from New York. “Now we get to enjoy our passion,” says Susan, a retired attorney, about their love of collecting.
The Stewarts, who previously had a small antique shop in New York, made plenty of changes to the building when they purchased it, including connecting the carriage house to the main house and utilizing brightly colored paint throughout the building. The result is a setting that feels as much like a well laid-out house tour as it does an antique shop.
“We want our customers to imagine the items we have for sale in their own homes,” says Susan. “So we try to set up the library as you would set up a library, with barristers and desks, and the dining room is set up as you would set up a dining room (with) a dining set, china, and so on.”
Instead of customers browsing from dealer to dealer, as is common in multi-vendor antique spaces, Susan and Wayne display the antiques at TreeHouse by grouping like items.
“One of our dealers specializes in stained glass, and we have stained glass all over the store, because we want people to see it in different settings,” says Susan. “We just try to create an environment where people can visualize things in their own homes. The same thing for chandeliers: How do I use them to light my dining room? How do I use one to light a den? And we try to help our customers through that process.”
It’s far more than chandeliers and stained glass in TreeHouse. With four dealers as well as Susan and Wayne, there is plenty to look at—indeed, there’s something for everyone, from high-end furniture to signed Trifari Jewelry. While big spenders can—and often do—fill trucks with their newly purchased marble topped tables and other antique furniture, there’s plenty to be found that won’t make quite the dent in your wallet, perfect for the spontaneous find.
In addition to having a broad array of collectible items—including Blue Willow China, Toby Mugs, Queensware Wedgewood, Bakelite Jewelry, and Fostoria glass—the staff at TreeHouse Antiques is just as interested in educating as in selling. Susan and Wayne place books near their corresponding collections for guests to reference.
“We have quite a bit of Flow Blue China throughout the store, and I have a book on Flow Blue China,” says Susan. “The other day, we had a customer who sat down in the library for about an hour reading the book, and he said, ‘Thank you, I learned quite a bit about my collection.’ We like people to learn things here.”
TreeHouse Antiques of Cape May is open 10am to 5pm daily from mid-June to mid-October, when hours decrease. Located at 742 Seashore Road in Cape May.
The Antique Doorknob
Right on the corner at the intersection of Park Boulevard and Leaming Avenue, down the street from Chez Michel and Ostara’s Coffee House, sits The Antique Doorknob. With a deceptively austere stucco storefront, The Antique Doorknob has graced the same location for 31 years, ever since Bill Causey started his second career.
“I was in the investment business in King of Prussia and Wall Street,” says Causey, whose entrance into the antique world was utterly happenstance.
Over three decades ago, Causey and his wife Sue purchased a home, built in 1888, in Pennsylvania. Behind a dumbwaiter, Causey found four crates full of original hardware from the house, and sensing he might be onto something, he came down to Cape May for an antique show at the Convention Center. Upon selling the hardware, Causey thought that it might be an interesting way to make a living.
“I never went back to the financial world, “says Causey.
Instead, Causey started The Antique Doorknob, a shop that specializes in authentic, American architectural items, specifically lighting, stained glass, fireplace mantels, and building hardware from the early 1800s and 1900s.
As much an architectural showroom as it is an antique shop, The Antique Doorknob also includes furniture, artwork, and rare and unusual items to fill in where the architectural finds leave off. For instance, at the time of this writing, Causey had a hand-carved Italian black walnut settee for sale at $8,000.
“We are a specialty shop,” says Causey. The shop has grown over time from 1100 square feet to an almost 2000 square feet store. And as it’s grown, so too has Causey’s expertise. “I made a lot of mistakes,” says Causey. “But you learn. I learned a lot from people who came into the shop.”
Now a veritable expert, Causey is a one-man show at The Antique Doorknob—unusual in a sea of multi-dealer antique shops—and so his acquisitions are often highly prized, and just as often, highly pricey. His mantelpieces, all stunning, are generally priced between $500 and $5,000, but there are outliers. “I sold one for $30,000 once,” says Causey.
But customers don’t have to spend thousands to score a find at The Antique Doorknob. “Not everything is a big-ticket item,” says Causey, referencing a pair of 1920s doorknobs that he sold for $30.
Due to his niche market, Causey works with a number of sources from across the country who collaborate with him to bring stunning pieces to Cape May. “I have a 1915 California wine bar out of Napa Valley, right out of a mansion,” says Causey. “If you wanted a beautiful wine bar, you’d have to be in California.”
While he used to go to estate auctions, Causey often relies on those pickers and finders to do the groundwork now. It’s Causey, however, that visitors to The Antique Doorknob want to see.
“You can’t sell a $30,000 wine bar without knowing what you’re talking about.”
The Antique Doorknob is normally open 10:30am to 4:30pm, Thursday through Monday, and by appointment, and is located at 600 Park Boulevard in West Cape May.
Pam Patrick always loved antiques.
“Before the kids were born, Sunday was the day my husband and I would hit all the antique shops,” Patrick says.
And though she loved them, Patrick didn’t set out to sell antiques. When she and her husband first purchased the building at 405 W. Perry Street 46 years ago—which now houses Antiques Emporia, Tea by the Sea, and Happy Baby—it was to house his plumbing business. It wasn’t until the business moved to Seashore Road that the first antiques entered the building.
At first, the Patricks weren’t involved, simply acting as landlords to antique selling tenants. But by 2005, just five years after utilizing a portion of the building to open Tea By the Sea, Patrick was ready to incorporate antiques as part of her own business.
“We did it as my children matured and could help out,” says Patrick. “It’s a family affair.”
And while sections of the large building house other family businesses—Tea by the Sea was the idea of Patrick’s oldest daughter; Happy Baby is run by another daughter, Alison—the vast amount of space in the middle is Antiques Emporia.
Though a definite stop on the antique trail, Antiques Emporia is as much new product as it is collectibles and vintage wares. “Some have new stuff,” Patrick says of the more than 50 dealers at Antiques Emporia. “This is their way of starting a business.”
Patrick references a dealer who brought in Christmas capes with matching gloves and sold them for $5 and $3 respectively. “One lady got 10 sets, and she said, ‘Well I just got all my girlfriends their Christmas presents,” says Patrick. “Everybody’s getting the same thing but in a different color.”
They also do a big mask business. “We sell face masks like you wouldn’t believe,” says Patrick. “And they’re like $3, $4.”
And while Patrick doesn’t require vendors to deal in antiques, there are, as the name suggests, plenty to find.
“I’ve got one gentleman that just concentrates on glassware,” says Patrick. “He will put all the colors together, maybe all green glassware, all orange glassware—because there are people who collect only red glassware, or blue glassware. And when they can see a whole shelf of it? Boom, that’s where they go.”
If you’re willing to look around—and that’s part of the fun with antique shopping—you’ll find booths full of sports collectibles including baseball cards; booths full of vintage Barbie Dolls along with their cases and clothes; and others with Depression-era glassware. And of course, many of the booths carry a combination of things.
What you won’t find at Antiques Emporia is a lot of heavy furniture.
“Due to our location, it’s pretty much cash and carry,” says Patrick. While Antiques Emporia has free street parking, spots are hard to come by. When visiting, consider parking in the paid public lot across the street.
Antiques Emporia is open 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday during the summer, with reduced hours in the off-season. It’s located at 405 West Perry Street in West Cape May.
Out of the Past Antiques
Located just across from Antiques Emporia on Myrtle Avenue, Out of the Past Antiques is a tiny little gem of an antique shop owned and operated by Jeanne Herman. The shop—in its current location—was opened in 1999, just six years after Herman purchased a home in Cape May and it is as much about the personal histories of antiques as the items themselves.
Herman’s interest in antiques was ignited when furnishing the Cape May house. In addition to including a set of wicker furniture from the Wildwood Crest home of her grandmother in her new house, Herman began collecting. She hasn’t stopped.
“I’ve always liked old things, things with a little bit of history and memory,” says Herman, who has a bachelor’s degree in history and a graduate degree in library science. “I could get addicted to worse things.”
Prior to purchasing the building on Myrtle Avenue, Herman dabbled in selling antiques. Though she worked full time as a Library Director in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she also maintained antique booths both in Lancaster and Cape May. At one point, she had a booth—and then multiple booths—across the street in what is now Antiques Emporia. From there, she spent a year selling out of the basement of The Hotel Macomber. Then she purchased the building on Myrtle Ave.
“People thought I was crazy,” says Herman. “It wasn’t a bargain, but it was a good move.”
Herman’s is a one-woman operation—she’s the only dealer in her 24 by 24 square foot space. “I don’t do consignment,” says Herman. “I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s things.”
Instead, Out of the Past Antiques is full of treasures curated solely by Herman. While there’s a little bit of everything, Herman has certain guidelines. “Everything has to be original—no reproductions,” she says.
Herman includes a mix of items from the 1800s through 1980. “It used to be up to the 60s, but now people are really interested in the 70s,” says Herman.
Items are carefully cataloged for display, courtesy of Herman’s history as a librarian. “Like things are together,” says Herman, who refers to an area of medical finds including vintage prescription bottles, stethoscopes, first aid pins, a WWII tracheotomy kit, medical post cards from WWI, and dishes from the Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Pennsylvania from the 1920s.
In addition to a unique perspective on her finds, Herman has some favorites. “I like little things, miniatures,” says Herman. “It’s like going into your grandmother’s attic.”
Herman has an affinity for well-made—and well-cared-for—dollhouse furniture, particularly vintage metal Tootsie Toy dollhouse furniture from the 1920s, as well as vintage clothing.
For collectors and antique hunters alike, there’s plenty to see, and plenty to find. And though there are heavier furniture items for sale, visitors have to investigate—their favorite table may be hidden under a layout of vintage rulers and inkwells. Herman also has a good deal of sterling silver, Majolica pottery, Fiestaware, and glassware.
As for spending, there are finds to be had for well under $25.
“You could spend $25 on four items…some diaper pins, earrings, handwritten letters, photographs,” says Herman. “I have one whole drawer full of sheet music and records for $1 apiece.”
Out of the Past Antiques is open from 11am to 4pm daily June through August and often throughout the year. Located at 392 Myrtle Avenue in West Cape May.
Cape May Antique Center
Anchoring our list is the 70-dealers-in-about-7000-square-feet-of-space-venue, Cape May Antique Center, where antique shoppers simply must stop on the way out of (or into) town.
Owned by Debbie Brown since 2013, Cape May Antique Center—which conveniently boasts a full parking lot right on Route 109—is the last of the antique shops in Cape May City.
“There aren’t a lot of places around that actually have antiques anymore,” says Brown of the multiple antique shops that have closed down within the city over the years. “Unfortunately, a lot of shops were priced out by real estate, or these people were older and passed away.”
Brown is the fourth owner of Cape May Antique Center and worked there for several years prior to purchasing the business. Though she doesn’t maintain a booth of her own, she does supply the center with some antiques.
“I don’t compete with my own dealers,” says Brown, who will supplement the store with outdoor metals like benches and arbors.
Instead, Brown champions the dealers who have space in her shop, vetting new applicants to make sure there isn’t a lot of overlap. “I try to get people who have things that are different from what we already have in the store,” says Brown. “Obviously, there’s some overlap because, for example, there were hundreds of pieces of milk glass made. We try to get people that will fit with what we’re doing, which is more vintage antiques than newer stuff. We try to stay away from the new unless it’s something that’s original or handmade. We try to keep the new things to a minimum.”
While you can find a handful of new items in Cape May Antique Center—one of the vendors currently sells handmade masks—most of what’s inside is vintage or antique—and much of it is on trend.
“The heavier stuff is kind of flat, so most people don’t deal with that so much. It’s just not selling. You don’t have formal dining rooms anymore. They don’t do China cabinets, things like that,” says Brown. “Right now, the mid-century through the seventies stuff is what’s really hot, and that’s what we seem to sell a lot of. A lot of the dealers have smaller tables that can fit in the back of a Honda.”
Along with the furniture, Brown has seen an uptick in the accessories of the era as well. “You have these girls, 18 or 19, buying all these little mushroom things from the 1970s because they think it’s really cool,” says Brown. “Because their mom had that.”
It’s more than just a mid-century collection, however. Cape May Antique Center literally has something for every type of collector, from military history to vintage Cape May, including signs from the original trolley company and some eclectic and unusual local finds, like a 1950s Western Electric phone booth from the C-View Inn.
From glassware, children’s books, stained glass, Sears Merry Mushroom containers and vintage linens to artwork, vintage handbags, and political pins, there’s something available at just about every price point.
“We have a little something for everyone,” says Brown.
Cape May Antique Center is open 10am to 5pm daily, June through September. Call for off-season hours. Located at 1228 Route 109 in Cape May.
Whether you’re on a mission to find a specific item or just planning a day of diversion, browsing your way through Cape May’s antiques is just the ticket.
West End Garage
With over 60 vendors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, West End Garage, a Cape Resorts Property, is a self-described “gift shopping paradise.” Technically, it’s not an antique shop, and indeed is home to vendors of all stripes and specialties, from new kitchenware and women’s clothing to Cape May-inspired artwork.
Tucked among all of the many shops, however, are the storefronts of a number of antique dealers.
“We really have a curated group of vendors,” says Shelley Burkhart, General Manager of West End Garage. “We hand select our vendors in order to prevent crossover products.”
The new mixes well with the old at West End.
“What we’re finding is that the newer generation likes an eclectic mix of their things,” says Burkhart. “So, they’ll maybe take one or two pieces of the vintage or antiques and mix it in with their contemporary or modern décor.”
When looking for that something old at West End Garage, do look—each of the antique dealers here carry different things. In addition to the repurposed antiques you can find at River Bend Basket Company (think a vintage glass repurposed as a decorative jellyfish), there are places to find vintage planters, plants and unique finds (Circa Dee); retro and French-inspired antiques (Urban); salvaged architectural items and repainted mirrors (Sea Level Art & Antiques); vintage linens (Derby Street); nautical and vintage-inspired antiques including pottery, glassware and linens (Seaside Classics I and II); primitive country furniture, folk art, and American antiques (A Rose is a Rose); vintage jewelry (Bridgetown Antiques); and upcycled and authentic antiques including mid-century modern finds (Green Monkey Vintage).
Pam Kaithern, the dealer behind Green Monkey Vintage, has been at West End Garage for about eight years.
“There’s a real sense of community among the vendors,” says Kaithern. “People are happy to be there selling because it’s already a very sought-after location for shoppers. The shoppers want to be there. From t-shirts to fine jewelry, when you need inspiration for a gift, it’s the place to go.”
West End Garage is open 10am to 6pm daily through the end of October with reduced hours in the off-season. Located at 484 West Perry Street in West Cape May.