Tiny Round Top transforms into one of America’s biggest shopping destinations, drawing 150,000 or more treasure hunters
By Sharon Jayson
Nancy Krause has been here since the beginning.
She is the last remaining dealer from the 25 or so who set up shop at the first Round Top Antiques Show in the fall of 1968.
Next month will mark her 55th year selling rare and vintage finds. You can find her, as usual, in booth 327 in the 30,000-square-foot Big Red Barn venue, about a mile from the original show’s location, Rifle Hall.
“I usually like to bring colors and pottery that lend themselves to fall decorating,” Krause said, explaining how she will prepare her 9-by-20-foot booth for October’s event. “I know where everything is going before I get there.”
Krause, 87, has operated Nancy’s Antiques in Brenham since 1965. She has missed only one Round Top show, in the spring 54 years ago, when she gave birth to her youngest child.
Those original sellers probably never dreamed their little event would evolve into a global shopping phenomenon.
Now, every spring and fall, as many as 4,000 dealers from around the nation and other countries set up shop for 150,000 or more shoppers at the Round Top Antiques Show. It’s been called the country’s largest antiques festival, both for the square footage of shopping space and the square mileage it occupies.
The events are located almost midway between Austin and Houston, within the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative service area.
It’s not just one show: Almost 100 venues are set up, most along an 11-mile stretch of State Highway 237, stretching from Carmine to Warrenton. Other venues can be found in Burton and Fayetteville, all within a 20-mile radius of Round Top in Fayette County.
The town’s 87 residents, by Mayor Mark Massey’s count, see their area transformed for a few weeks each spring and fall into an Instagram darling for destination shopping. Their streets are packed with visitors from out of town, out of state and overseas. There is a winter show in January, but it is shorter, smaller and draws fewer participants.
Whether a devoted Round Top veteran or a novice, everyone is on something of a treasure hunt. Mingling amid the serious shoppers and casual browsers are celebrities, TV and social media influencers, decorators and designers arriving to see what’s there and to be seen.
The next fall event begins in mid-October. Some venues open as early as Oct. 12, others as late as Oct. 24. All end by Oct. 29.
Merchandise here ranges from high-end European furniture and fine art from around the globe that can cost thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars, to flea-market bargains that will get you change back from a $20 bill. There is an eclectic mix of styles: Americana, Texana, midcentury modern, French country, classic European and contemporary, to name a few. Shoppers can find decor, jewelry, clothing, vintage signs, stylish Western boots and hats, one-of-a-kind collectibles and unusual collections spilling from tents, trailers, barns, air-conditioned buildings and historic properties.
“Round Top has an amazing reputation as a place with a lot of design energy,” said Beth Berke of Chicago, who was selling her antiques for the first time at Round Top during this year’s spring show. “It attracts people from all over the U.S., and I thought it would be fun to come and be a part of that,” she said. “I was excited when a space opened up.”
Her 15-by-30-foot space at Round Top’s Marburger Farm Antique Show limited her to “a sampling” of inventory from her 6,000-square-foot South Loop Loft showroom in Chicago: furniture, decorative arts, rugs and textiles, lighting, accessories and artisan items. She specializes in one-of-a-kind European pieces from the 1940s through 1990s.
The Marburger Farm show, just south of Round Top, features more than 300 dealers selling primarily antiques inside nine tents — five the size of football fields — and 10 historic buildings on 43 acres, said Tracy Blacketer, show manager.
Not all of Round Top’s vendors offer high-end goods. Sure, shoppers can buy elite items that come with certificates of authenticity, but they can also find collectibles sold from small roadside tents.
“Round Top is extraordinary in that it provides an escapism many are seeking, regardless of their bank account,” Blacketer said.
The venues have multiplied and spread for miles from that first show in Rifle Hall. The Original Round Top Antiques Fair, as it is now known, includes the Big Red Barn (a climate-controlled building with an array of antiques, fine glass, art and jewelry), the Continental Tent (an air-conditioned tent with antique furnishings) and the Barn’s Annex.
“People started to see this magical antique wonderland,” said Stephanie Layne Disney, the show manager of the Original Round Top Antiques Fair. The Layne family, native Houstonians and sixth-generation Texans, bought the show in 2022. They had previously purchased another major Round Top venue, Blue Hills, south of the Big Red Barn and north of Round Top. That 100,000-plus square feet of shopping space includes more than 75 vendors, plus food, parking and restrooms.
Disney, who lives in Fort Worth, has an interior design and antiques background. Growing up, she and her mother often shopped the Round Top shows. Now, the events aren’t just about shopping: “It’s about what you’re wearing, where you are, what events you’re at,” she said.
Almost every evening, venues host events where brands promote products. “A lot of people put on a dinner and invite other influencers,” Disney said. Sought-after invitations and tickets are part of the Round Top scene.
Former Texas First Lady Linda Gale White arrived at the Big Red Barn for the spring opening day earlier this year with a group of friends who have been coming to Round Top for more than 30 years. She returned the next day for Marburger Farm’s opening.
“I love finding the little jewel that attracts my eye,” said White, 81, who was shopping for items for her small antiques business in Houston.
The Marburger show, which opened in 1997, is owned by a Dallas-based real estate development and investment services company. Manager Blacketer touted the quality of Marburger’s offerings: “These are masterfully created vignettes that come from merchandise sourced all over the globe,” she said.
Among Marburger’s dealers is one of its co-founders, Ed Gage. Many know Gage for Uncommon Objects, his longtime South Congress Avenue shop in Austin. In the mid-1990s, he and a partner bought the 44-acre Marburger property that was once a farm. He calls himself “a lifelong treasure hunter.”
“We’re kind of road-warrior gypsies who travel from town to town,” said Gage, who sells mostly jewelry and art. “There’s a huge camaraderie and support system of people who love their neighbors, treat each other well and see each other at the next show.”
Among those who planned to be first in line when Marburger’s doors opened last spring was first-time show shopper Jennie Logan of Dallas. She was on a mission to find a buffet for her dining room. She was with her friend and interior designer Lacy Lange, a Round Top regular for at least six years.
“All these people who have stand-alone shops all around the country and bring the best of their stuff to this small town are pretty amazing,” Logan said.
“I did find the elusive buffet I was looking for and had to get that shipped,” she said, adding that she also bought “probably 15 pieces of art, a big rattan bench, two side tables and two lamps.”
Does all the selling and buying benefit the residents of Round Top? Massey, the town’s mayor, a Houston native who was elected in 2020, said the antique show is “entrepreneurship at its finest.”
“We all talk and cooperate as best we can. There’s no organization that runs it or checks in with vendors,” he said. “Each venue is independently operated. Outside of our town’s one square mile, the town has no jurisdiction over the venues,” and many are expanding their existing sites, he added.
“The town of Round Top has witnessed a major increase in year-round tourism, resulting in annual sales tax revenue of just over $400,000 in the last fiscal year,” Massey said.
This fall will be Round Top native Lauriano Pineda Jr.’s fourth show as a dealer of art, decor, furniture and pottery imported from Mexico. He and a partner operate Terracotta Cowboy out of an 80-by-40-foot leased building in the Round Top venue Cisco Village.
“It’s kind of a wild thing. I grew up in Round Top and watched it when nothing was here. I’m 31. I’ve seen it grow up from dirt roads to what it is now,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful. There’s always somewhere to go out. To be from Round Top is like saying you’re from Aspen.”
Pineda’s import business is open only during the shows, as are many of the venues that aren’t year-round shops in permanent locations along the State Highway 237 corridor and in nearby communities. Just south of Round Top, the Marketplace Warrenton offers rental spaces for vendors’ RVs. North of Round Top, the La Bahia Antique Show near Burton is in a historic 1879 dance hall and community center.
Ron Naumann, a sergeant with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, knows all about the growth that can back traffic up by as much as 12 miles every spring and fall. He has coordinated traffic and security for shows since 1996, when events lasted only a few days. After the first year, Naumann started working on horseback to cover more ground and better coordinate with the assortment of assisting officers from other jurisdictions.
He still does his job atop a horse.
Less likely to be caught in traffic are the celebrities who make their way to Round Top, sometimes in helicopters. Actors, singers, sports stars and well-known TV interior designers and decorators have been spotted shopping. They’ve included TV home makeover stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, designer/actor Carson Kressley, actor Matthew McConaughey, country singer Miranda Lambert, former NFL star Peyton Manning and many more.
Long-timer Krause says it’s easy for her to spot wealthy buyers.
“They come in and just say ‘I’ll take this,’ and somebody comes behind them with a sold tag,” she said.
It’s a far cry from the early days when Emma Lee Turney, a Houston antiques dealer, organized that first show. Turney, who died in 2021 at the age of 92, created a tradition that has evolved into the ultimate Texas “shopportunity.”
For Krause, the 2023 winter show in January marked a milestone in her Round Top antique-selling career: She sold out for the first time.
Her trip back to Brenham had never been easier.
“I had taken some live plants I’ve decorated with, and when I was packing up to leave, two ladies from South Carolina asked me if the plants were for sale. So, I even sold my decorations,” Krause said. “Then I picked up my purse and walked out the door.”
IF YOU GO TO THE ROUND TOP ANTIQUES SHOW
Getting there, the big venues and more
About 100 venues hosting up to 4,000 vendors will open for business in October during the Round Top Antiques Show. Most are concentrated along an 11-mile stretch of State Highway 237, starting at the intersection with U.S. 290 and heading south to Warrenton. Some shopping is available in nearby communities as well.
Dates and times of operation will vary. The first venue opens Oct. 12 and the last opens Oct. 24; the final day of sales is Oct. 29.
Some of the larger venues, heading south along State Highway 237, include:
BIG RED BARN and ANNEX, and CONTINENTAL TENT (also known as the Original Round Top Antiques Fair): south of the intersection of State Highway 237 and U.S. 290
BLUE HILLS: 26-acre property with 100,000 square feet of shopping space, more than 60 vendors
THE ARBORS: about 70,000 square feet of shopping; more than 120 dealers selling antique and new furniture, textiles, jewelry and art
THE HALLES: largely open-air venue with eight buildings (three enclosed) where vendors sell art, antiques, artisan furniture and lighting
BADER RANCH AT ROUND TOP: antiques and garden decor, as well as midcentury modern furnishings and assorted vintage and handmade apparel and jewelry
MARBURGER FARM: more than 300 dealers with goods from around the world across 10 historic buildings and nine tents
THE COMPOUND: six barns (two climate-controlled) where shoppers can find antiques, furniture, decorative arts, lighting and architectural objects, as well as jewelry, silver and more
WARRENTON: small town that has come into its own as a venue or, rather, multiple venues that stretch along several miles of State Highway 237. A hodgepodge of goods spill across open fields, out of tents and in structures, both temporary and permanent
BURTON: north of the intersection of U.S. 290 and State Highway 237, has some small shops; La Bahia venue, just south, is one of the first on Highway 237
CARMINE: on U.S. 290, just west of its intersection with Highway 237 and near the major venues; has several year-round antiques shops
FAYETTEVILLE: several miles southeast of Warrenton, has some offerings, including year-round antiques stores
GET MORE INFORMATION
Check websites and Instagram feeds of individual venues
SHOP, DON’T DROP
Tips for making the rounds
at the Round Top show
Expect traffic delays, especially on opening days. The scenery on State Highway 237 changes as you move from the more polished Round Top-area venues to the less fussy temporary tents with a flea-market feel in the Warrenton area.
- Each of the more than 100 venues is independently owned and operated, setting their own opening and closing dates within the time frame of the overall show. Amenities vary: Some are air-conditioned, others not; some have permanent bathrooms, others don’t. Some have restaurant-like seating and dining, others have limited menus, takeout or food trucks.
- Admission prices for venues vary. Early-admission tickets to Marburger Farm are $40; VIP tickets to the Original Round Top Antiques Fair venues are $25; others range from $15 to free for most.
- Plot your strategy, and do your research. You can opt to visit multiple sales, but with so many big venues on large grounds stretched far apart, covering one or two may be all you can manage in a day. Be prepared to both walk and to move your car from place to place. Some parking is free; some isn’t.
- Newbies, manage your expectations. Have a shopping list. There is more merchandise for sale than you can imagine, and another show is always around the corner. Large items can usually be shipped, and there are many shipping options. You will need to lug around the rest of your purchases and load them into your vehicle. The bigger your vehicle, the more room for unplanned purchases.
- Dress for comfort and prepare to walk for miles. Wide-brimmed hats can help. Broken-in sturdy shoes or boots are essential. There’s not a Round Top uniform, but if you want to see what folks wear, check the venues’ Instagram feeds.
KEEP AN EYE PEELED FOR FAMILIAR FACES
Former Texas First Lady Linda Gale White, the widow of Gov. Mark White, discusses an item with her friend Suzie Johnson. Both are from Houston. They traveled with a group of friends for the Big Red Barn opening day last spring and then White came back for the Marburger Farm opening the following day. White owns a small antiques business at the Memorial Antiques & Interiors showroom in Houston. Many celebrities — actors, singers, sports stars and TV interior designers and decorators — have been spotted in the crowds of shoppers, including, clockwise from top center, TV home makeover stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, designer/actor Carson Kressley, former NFL star Peyton Manning, country singer Miranda Lambert and actor Matthew McConaughey. Upper left photo by Ken Herman
A NEW VENUE
8,000-square-foot A.R.T. opened in spring
As existing Round Top venues expand and new ones seek toeholds, one of the newest is A.R.T., which stands for Antique Round Top. The 8,000-square-foot, climate-controlled space opened its doors this spring.
The venue, at 2260 N. State Highway 237, north of Marburger Farm and south of Round Top, is the brainchild of longtime dealers Ted Fuehr and his wife, Jennifer Fuehr, of Shawnee, Kan.
Their 47-year career as show dealers includes more than 15 years at Round Top, where they began selling 18th-and 19th-century American furniture and accessories, then added items from other genres and time periods.
“I’ve watched Round Top grow from a small amount of venues to become a megamarket,” he said. “We’re getting major decorators and designers from both coasts — New York, L.A., Miami, Seattle, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and quite a few from North Carolina — and they’re spending a lot of money buying, in some instances, a semitrailer load of merchandise.”
Ted Fuehr said Round Top is cost- and time-efficient for designers and decorators because of the variety of goods sold in one area. Buyers can find items for homes, stores, restaurants or hotels.
Janet and Rick Waldrop of Carthage in East Texas were among those checking out A.R.T. this spring. They weren’t just casual shoppers. Janet Waldrop makes jewelry and art from antique “found objects” for her business, Skip 2 My Lou, inside the Marburger Farm venue.
“It’s amazing how many new people are coming in from everywhere,” she said. “They all say (the antiques festival) is so much more than that they thought it would be.”
— Sharon Jayson
Pros know to plan far in advance
There are several dozen trendy places to stay overnight in Round Top during the spring and fall shows, but the supply cannot keep up with demand. The hottest spots near town are reserved a year — or years — in advance.
A few often-mentioned overnight spots, all renovated with a chic vibe, include:
HOTEL LULU: Spread across six 19th-century bungalows and three private cottages; in earlier times, the restored buildings were known as Bybee Square; also an herb garden, formal garden and pool; 204 E. Mill St., Round Top; 979-249-5174; hotellulutx.com
RANCHO PILLOW: Twenty-acre compound two miles from Warrenton, self-described “whimsical wonderland” with grounds that include a bathhouse, heated saltwater wading pool and treehouse; 11222 Schuster Road, Round Top; ranchopillow.com; make reservations online or email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE COTTON PEARL MOTEL: Compound of properties from the early 1900s includes a main house and two cottages, pool, firepit and pickleball court; 404 N. Live Oak St., Round Top; must book entire property for two-night minimum; thecottonpearl.com
THE FRENCHIE: Boutique hotel with assorted rooms in an 1800s vintage farmhouse, also art studio suites, poolside rooms, a private cottage and private shed, with amenities that include fire pits, massages, hot tub and gourmet kitchen; 311 N. Live Oak St., Round Top; 979-208-9851; thefrenchieguesthouses.com
WANDER INN: Numerous chic rooms, including the Wanderlust, the Stardust and the Wild Blue Yonder, are at the inn, adjacent to the retail compound Junk Gypsy, a brand known to HGTV and now QVC shopping network fans; 1215 S. State Highway 237, Round Top; 979-249-5865; gypsyville.com/wander-inn
The Round Top Area Chamber of Commerce’s member directory lists 49 options for overnight stays, including hotels, motels, bungalows, cabins, apartments, cottages, guesthouses, inns, RV parks and vacation rentals. Go to exploreroundtop.com and click on Stay.
A search for “Round Top” on Airbnb.com returns more than 475 area listings stretching from La Grange to Brenham; vrbo.com shows more than 230 listings in the same area.