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Treasure Hunters | By Diane Silcox-Jarrett

For more than twenty years antique lovers have been able to enjoy the thrill of the hunt at the bi-annual Antique Street Fair in the town of Cameron, North Carolina. On the first Saturday of each May and October more than 300 antique dealers come to Cameron to sell their antiques, collectibles and one-of-a kind treasures, and the quite delightful little town becomes the place to be for antique hunters in North Carolina. (This year’s spring street fair will be held on May 7th.) It may look like an exceptionally large Antiques Roadshow with stately century-old furniture, estate jewelry and exquisite pieces of crystal on display, but for antique hunters it may just be a little better, because for each of the two fair days those who love antique can find treasures to take home.

The main street of Cameron, arranged along a half mile of NC Highway 24-27, will itself transport you back to a time when neighbors sat on porches together sipping lemonade, enjoying a nice cool southern breeze. It is decidedly a place that could not have been designed better for antique enthusiasts to feel at home. Isabel Thomas, a native of Cameron, remembers with great fondness her days as a young girl growing up in the town. With her passion and love of those days gone by, it was only fitting that she was one of the first to open up an antiques store in Cameron during the 1970s. “It did seem like the natural thing for me to do,” Thomas says at age 86. “I had a tea-room at the time with a friend, Frances Floyd, in my grandmother’s house. People would come from Chapel Hill and Durham for tea, coffee and a piece of homemade coffee cake or pie,” she explains. “They would tell us how charming everything was. I guess some people think that anything that old is charming,” she laughs.

Thomas opened her antiques store in the Greenwood Inn in downtown Cameron. “My father owned the building and left it to me. I wanted to do something with it that would keep it going so it would not just deteriorate.” When the doors opened to her store, the tradition of selling antiques in Cameron began. Soon, others decided to open establishments selling antiques and the town’s reputation for antiques marketing spread quickly, not only for its own charm but for the quality of the establishments which sold antiques. Cameron now has twelve antique establishments, many of which are located in historic buildings.

Once Cameron established itself as an excellent place to search down a treasure, folks in town decided an antiques street festival would be a good way to promote the town even further. Patty Boaz, who is the shopkeeper of The Market at Muse Brothers Store, home to several antiques dealers, says the fair not only brings in antiques from all over but also people from Virginia, Charlotte, Fayetteville and Raleigh. “There are those who are antique dealers and vendors and then there are those who just want to enjoy a nice spring or fall day in a small, charming town and perhaps find a special treasure to take home. Between 10,000 to 20,000 antique lovers come to the festivals rain or shine. “And we have had some rainy festivals,” laughs Boaz. “But it never stopped the crowds.” “Antiques never go out of style,” says Joe Bauerbrand, owner of The Market at Muse Brothers Store. “With the many different antique dealers that come for the fair, it is exciting to see what they bring each time.” Though antiques don’t go out of style, and everyone has a different taste, Bauerbrand says that retro items from the 50s and 60s have become more sought after in recent years. “They may not be considered quite antique, but they are popular right now,” he explains.

The street fair is sponsored by The Cameron Antique Dealers Association, but the whole town benefits from the event. Local churches sell food, allowing out-of-town visitors to enjoy home-cooked meals, biscuits and pies. The pies might just remind you of what Isabella sold in her tea room. A visit to Cameron’s Antique Festival is a pleasurable way to celebrate spring or fall, have some refreshing lemonade and take delight in a town that values its past. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt for that special treasure and perhaps have a chat with Isabel, who still enjoys the fair.