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Everything under the sun

Three times a year in hilly Mount Dora, more than 1,000 dealers gather to sell antiques and collectibles and just about anything else you may be looking for.

By ROBERT N. JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003


photo
[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
At Uncle Bill’s, a permanent outdoor area at Renningers, the hodgepodge of stuff for sale is not displayed so much as piled: in suitcases, atop and beneath huge tables, leaning against trees

MOUNT DORA -- "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, maintaining the status quo for buyer and seller.

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 Feb. 14-16 Renningers Promotions "extravaganza," which sprawls across 117 acres of former pasture. Three times a year, as many as 1,400 dealers set up tables and display shelves, or put out banana shipping cartons, or merely put their merchandise 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, over there 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 vendor the usual gambit for bargaining: "Can you do any better on this?"

[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
Presentation is not everything, at least not for the merchant trying to sell these wooden stools.

Do you wish 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? Over there.

A pair of snowshoes? Here.

Decrepit outboard motors? Lacrosse stick? A package of 100 brochures ($60) promising "What You Should Know About George C. Wallace"?

All 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.

Start shopping.

* * *

"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."

* * *

photo
[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
A rare item, this electric mantle clock bears the legend: FDR The Man of The Hour.

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.

To more quickly grab visitors' attention, that mounted bison's head -- about half the size of a VW Beetle -- is priced at $1,500.

Speaking of conversation pieces, how about the standing Buddha statue, in carved and painted wood? "It came from Ohio -- though I didn't know there was a big Buddhist community there."

* * *

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 and Adamstown.

On the surprisingly 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, held the third weekend of November, January and February, that make visiting an experience.

If you actually come looking for something specific -- antique toys, fancy dinnerware, old grocery store boxes and cans, militaria, lapel pins from the former USSR -- you may feel compelled not to quit before seeing all the dealers.

But that 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 for $15. Otherwise, admission for Friday is $10, for Saturday it's $5, and for Sunday $3.

Many vendors basically hold an estate sale where they know there will be a huge customer flow. Other sellers carry on a commercial hobby, or as one man told a browser, "My wife started doing this because the Social Security doesn't bring in enough."

But an untold number of shoppers and vendors are professional dealers. Many follow an established circuit, coming south in the winter for the numerous smaller weekend flea markets and evening auctions. Then the pros head home to Indiana and New York, Canada and North Carolina, to set up booths there.

[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
At Renningers Extravaganza, the merchandise was antique or used, such as the row upon row of glass ornamental and serving pieces.

* * *

"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."

"I share display space with these two guys dealing used furniture. They go to the estate sale auctions, buy pieces for $65 and resell for $225. I'm black and blue from helping them move stuff around into little display groupings."

[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
Operating the largest display area, entrepreneurs from Nova Scotia bought and reconditioned or painted life preservers, lifeboat oars, wooden and glass floats and even harpoon points from working ships.

* * *

As for that shopper who was seeking old Florida-themed items, he only had to keep browsing. One double-sized booth was filled with original and reproduction citrus crate labels and T-shirts bearing some of the labels. Other booths were selling classic souvenir postcards of the Sunshine State and restaurant place mats featuring maps.

Maybe he would have settled for an unused copy of My Own Explore Florida Coloring Book, distributed at some time in the previous century by Florida Power Corp. It features a snappy drawing of Reddy Kilowatt dressed to prowl the Sunshine State in bush jacket and pith helmet.

"$10, or make me an offer."

If you go

map to Mount Dora GETTING THERE: Renninger Promotions' year-round 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. Or drive north on Interstate 75 to the exit for State Road 44. Head east through Leesburg, turning onto 441 just outside the city.

EXTRAVAGANZAS: The third weekend of November, January and February. Indoor dealers open at 8 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; outdoor dealers open at 10. Admission is $10 Friday, $5 Saturday, $3 Sunday, or $15 for a three-day ticket. Parking is free.

For those spending the night, a number of inexpensive motels and B&Bs are within a short drive of the market site. For a list, go to the Renninger Web site www.renningers.com and click on Accommodations.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Web site noted above includes a list of dealers at the year-round market and details on the extravaganzas and monthly events, as well as links to the Pennsylvania markets. For more information on year-round dealers, call (352) 383-8393.

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