IF IT’S ERUDITION OR ENLIGHTENMENT you’re seeking, we refer you to the rest of the magazine. You’ll find no high-minded ideals herein; our subject is merely that materialistic and endlessly pleasing pastime known as shopping. An excursion to any one of the following towns will provide not only laid-back browsing sans crowds but also an opportunity to drive Texas’ back roads. Our list includes at least two day-trip destinations from each major Texas city except El Paso, where shoppers tend to head across the border for bargains. We chose to omit Fredericksburg because—although it is certifiably small and wonderfully shoppable—its streets and sidewalks have grown off-puttingly thronged. Besides, you know about F-burg. Most of the 24 towns we visited, on the other hand, are full of comparatively undiscovered delights.
Before you pile into the car, however, keep a few points in mind. First of all, remember that the towns may be small, but the prices in the stores are not. Rural dealers are well aware of their goods’ worth. Dickering is still permitted, but be polite about it: “Could you give me a better price on this?” (not “I’ll give you $50 for it”). Odds are that the specific items we mention will be long gone by the time you visit; in fact, entire stores can appear and disappear quickly. The hours of operation are iffy too; some small-town merchants are open only on weekends (if that often). Thus we’ve listed phone numbers, so you can verify that a particular store will be open when you arrive, but not addresses, since these shops are usually clustered together in a walkable area or along a main street. Finally, we apologize to the scores of good shopping towns we didn’t cover. We’ll try to make up for it—buy-and-buy.
Waxahachie • Forreston • Hico
HOME TO A VIBRANT TOWN SQUARE AND several hundred Victorian gingerbread houses, Waxahachie also has a wide range of shops, from high-end antiques stores along the square to funky junk shops on its side streets. Given its proximity to Dallas, prices were surprisingly reasonable.
Crushed-velvet draperies ran only $5 at the flea markets one block from the town square, and at the Dove’s Nest (972-938-3683), an upscale antiques store across from the courthouse, we discovered everything from an ornate wire birdcage ($180) to jars of pickled okra ($7.50). We could easily have spent the afternoon puttering around the square, but our favorite spot was the Webb Gallery (972-938-8085), Texas’ largest folk art gallery, one block west on Franklin. Housed in a brilliant red building with a cast-iron facade, the gallery looks as if it had been plucked from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Our interest was piqued by the pickup truck parked outside, which was garishly painted and decorated with plastic figurines. Inside, we found an eclectic collection of outsider art, from Ike Morgan’s quirky portraits of George Washington and Jimmy Carter ($400— $600) to Carl Block’s grimacing “face jugs” ($35—$150).
A short drive down U.S. 77 brought us to the one-block town of Forreston, a windswept spot on the prairie where—to our amazement—we found what may be the best vintage-clothing store in all of Texas, Bon Ton (972-483-6222). A mix of bossa nova, polka, and big-band tunes played in the background as we picked through the kitschy treasures on the first floor, which included a Chinese parasol, several old medical books, a blue velvet lampshade, and stacks of dusty 45’s. The main attraction was the second floor, where we looked through racks of flapper dresses and big-shouldered men’s gabardine suits in mint condition. Among the finds here were a pink chiffon ball gown trimmed with silver bugle beads ($75), a leopard-print bikini top ($15), a floor-length red silk kimono ($60), and the shop’s pièce de résistance: a hand-sewn, black Christian Dior bubble dress ($300). “It should be in a museum,” whispered owner Barbra Kauffman as she smoothed its luxurious folds of peau de soie.
We would gladly have lingered at Bon Ton, but we pushed on to Hillsboro, a well-known hub of antiques and outlet shopping about twenty miles south on U.S. 77 that proved to be largely disappointing. Far more impressive was Hico, the reputed hideout of Billy the Kid and a destination that required roughly an hour’s drive west from Hillsboro. On Second Street we stopped at Cowboy Art (254-796-2462), which had the feel of an old western movie set, with rocking chairs fashioned from horseshoes ($500), tables made from old wagon wheels ($550), and rawhide lamps with leather stitching ($50—$100). Downtown, on Pecan, we discovered Lonnie and Mabel’s (254-796-4157), which had a remarkable collection of restored fifties Formica-and-chrome dinette sets in cherry red, turquoise, pink, and butter yellow ($300—$500). Our favorite was a pearl-gray table with red rose inlays and matching red Naugahyde chairs ($900). On our way out of town we stopped at Wiseman House (254-796-2565), a Victorian home on Grubbs that is part antiques store, part chocolate shop. We sampled the collection of retro treats—Necco Wafers, Beeman’s Gum, and lime-flavored rock candy—before helping ourselves to a few hand-dipped chocolate truffles ($14.50 a pound) for the road. Pamela Colloff
Boerne • Comfort • Camp Verde
HALF AN HOUR NORTHWEST OF SAN ANTONIO lies Boerne, where shops are scattered along a mile and a half of its Hauptstrasse (Main Street). There’s a public parking lot in the 200 block, just next to the roomy Boerne Emporium (830-249-3390), which has the best prices in town. Finds, for $3 each: a Mahalia Jackson funeral-home fan and sheet music for the 1937 song “Pin a Bluebonnet on Your New Bonnet” (featuring, incongruously, a serape’d señorita). A pair of vintage child’s lederhosen ($65) was a reminder of Boerne’s Teutonic heritage. Across the street and down the block is the Carousel (830-249-9306), a twofer business specializing in antiques and pickles—yes, pickles: Made on the premises, they possess a mysterious amalgam of heat, sweetness, and crunch ($3.95—$9.95 a jar—and, boy, do they get the steering wheel sticky).
Twenty minutes up U.S. 87 brings you to Comfort, a stronghold