When the bluebonnets start popping up, I know another harbinger of spring is not far behind: the two-week antiques shopping bonanza in and around Round Top that draws thousands of collectors, junkers, DIYers, professional merchandisers, and bargain hunters of all budgets. As the dozens of shows begin to open, it’s natural for a mild-grade panic to set in: because even though you’ll have till April 3 or so to buy, buy, buy, you won’t have enough time to see (or, alas, buy) it all. Instead, arm yourself with a realistic game plan using these tips:

  1. Go early.
    If you want first dibs, join the professional merchandisers and collectors (for stores like Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren, and ABC Home) who are known to buy merch as it’s being unloaded from the trucks. It’s a widely known secret that dealers at the highly curated, admission-required shows, like the Marburger Farm Antique Show and the Original Round Top Antiques Fair, often come early to shop the fields then resell their finds a few days later at a profit.
  1. Or go late.
    If it’s bargains you’re looking for, consider going the last couple of days a show is open. As one dealer told me, by the end sellers are often more eager to make you a deal than to load their wares back onto their trucks.

Round Top antiques fair

  1. Head to “the fields” for the best bargains.
    You’re going to have to sort through a lot of junk, but the thrill of the hunt can’t be beat in the tent-strewn pastures known as “the fields,” which have the mishmash vibe of a garage sale (albeit, a very large one). If your favorite treasures tend to be cheap and random, head to Warrenton for shows like North Gate, Bar W, Tin Star, and Dillard’s Field.
  1. Head to the admission-required shows for the best high-ticket items.
    If you aren’t too keen on junking or picking, instead preferring a well curated, beautifully merchandised shopping experience, the Marburger Farm Antique Show ($10 or $25 for early admission) and the Original Round Top Antiques Fair ($10 or $20 for early admission) will be worth the price of entry. You’ll also find exquisite booths and rare pieces at free shows like Blue Hills at Round Top and Arbor International Antique & Interiors Show.
Round Top antiques fair
Photograph by Jordan Breal
  1. Book a hotel room well in advance.
    My favorite places to stay—including the Vintage Round Top, the Prairie by Rachel Ashwell, and the Bird Song Cottage—are favorites for plenty of other folks too, so you’ll need to snag a reservation as early as possible. In other words, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire now for the fall shows, which will run from September 17 to October 2 this year.
  1. But don’t fret over last-minute lodging.
    Fill out this lodging request form, which goes out to local innkeepers and B&B owners, who can alert you to vacancies and cancellations.
Round Top antiques fair
Photographs by Jordan Breal
  1. Always bargain.
    Don’t hesitate to ask a friendly, “What’s the best you can do on this?” Most sellers know that bargaining is part of the game and build a little wiggle room into their prices. Besides, the worst someone can say is no—and you just might find something even better at the next tent over.
  1. Bring cash.
    Although many sellers are equipped to swipe your plastic (and will do so gladly), the green stuff may help you get a better deal. And the on-site ATMs often run out of money.
Round Top antiques fair
Photographs by Jordan Breal
  1. Come prepared.
    You’ll want a hat and sunscreen for the blaring sun and rain boots and a poncho for unexpected showers. Since you’ll likely wander far from your car, tote bags and a cart or wagon will come in handy for your haul. Also, be sure to bring a tape measure as well as a list of measurements from around your house so you’ll know if that nineteenth-century French farm table will actually fit in your dining room.
  1. If you see something you really want, buy it right then.
    Because it’ll almost certainly be gone when you come back for it!

Plus, a few key references to bookmark or download before you go:

And, a few don’t-miss events:

Monday, March 28: Pandora de Balthazar’s White Party, which celebrates the designer’s twentieth year at the Round Top shows (you can find her at the Arbor Antique Show) and benefits the Round Top Festival Institute

Tuesday, March 29: Tribe: Meet the Makers, a gathering of well-known creatives, artists, and DIYers (including Houston chef Monica Pope and Manready Mercantile’s Travis Weaver)

Thursday, March 31: the Junk Gypsy family’s annual Junk-O-Rama Prom, which is always the social event of the junking season