My kids get pretty sick of trailing me through the grocery store. Clothes shopping, depending on how it goes, can be a thrill or a deep disappointment. But there are other kinds of stores that are more reliable sources of fun, entertainment, and information—everything, that is, you want from a day trip. What’s more, they don’t require a lot of time.
We’ve made mini-outings to many retail destinations in central Virginia, and one of our very favorites is the Factory Antique Mall in Verona. At 130,000 square feet, the Factory claims to be the country’s largest antique mall. I can’t confirm that, but it’s big enough to advertise on its website that “Buses & RVs are welcome!” Its size means that it has space to house a deep bench of specialized oddities. This is a key fact, because kids—including my girls, ages 5 and 8 —are unlikely to be thrilled by examining armoires and china sets all afternoon.
Inside the warehouse-like building, the wares of more than 200 dealers line a network of indoor “streets,” complete with street signs to help you find your way. We usually nose around first near the front entrance, where there’s a large collection of antique toys: cast-iron tractors, colorful spinning tops, and other stuff my girls’ great-grandparents might have played with. Though I give my kids a small budget to spend in the mall, they like to just look at this section as though it were a museum display—albeit a loosely curated one in which touching the goods is not verboten.
Later in our wanderings, we always take a turn through a different collection of toys, this one focused on my own childhood era of the 1980s. People of the Cabbage Patch/Michael Jackson/Transformers generation, can you imagine the nostalgia of a wall full of metal lunch boxes? I found the exact one I toted to first grade: Strawberry Shortcake, complete with thermos. And my girls were actually interested.
Another booth that always commands our attention sits near the center of the building, featuring rocks and gems. (Are these antiques? In a sense, I guess they are.) This kind dealer had a box of freebies set aside for kids, and talked to the girls for a while about geological curiosities. Nearby, I became sucked into an extensive and well-organized collection of maps, while my kids drifted toward shelves and shelves of Nutcracker dolls.
You get the idea. Everything in the world is here somewhere. Swords, stamps, wooden canoes, birdhouses, quilts, tools, cash registers, rotary phones, silver spoons, beer steins, 8-track tapes, hats, coins. It was, in fact, a silly novelty quarter, four inches across, that each daughter eventually decided on as a Factory souvenir. Heirlooms? No. Hands-on history lesson? Yes.
The Factory Antique Mall is open Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-6pm, and Sunday 1-6pm. It’s the orange and yellow building off exit 227 from I-81 in Verona. See factoryantique mall.com or call (540) 248-1110.
Other stores to explore
The Green Valley Book Fair is a huge discount bookstore, with a big children’s section, plopped into the rolling farmland near Harrisonburg. Your kids can choose, say, a board book for $2.50 or a chapter book for around $5-6. It opens periodically throughout the year; check gobookfair.com for the schedule.
Tucked away in the Rockfish Valley Community Center, in Afton, the Virginia Rock Shop is a laid-back den chock full of gems, crystals, fossils, and just plain rocks—fun stuff to browse. Budding jewelry makers will be excited to find cabinets full of polished-stone beads and pearls. Call 981-1897.
As beginning knitters, my girls and I love a good yarn store—the colorful skeins are an inspiration in themselves, and beautifully crafted sweaters and scarves make us dream big. Magpie Knits (111 W. Main St., magpieknits.com) and Ewe (617 W. Main St., ewefibers.com) are both worth a stop.
An old-fashioned hardware store should be required
browsing for every youngster. Here they can get a clue about
how the world is put together, and every kid loves those giant spools of metal chain. Martin Hardware, 941 Preston Ave.,
does the trick.
When we’re in town, we sometimes take a turn through
the Habitat Store (1221 Harris St.) to check out all the
curious chandeliers, clocks, and ping-pong tables the world
has to offer. But if we’re in Richmond, Caravati’s (104 E.
Second St.; caravatis.com) has the motherlode of architectural salvage.
Over in Dayton, Valley Water Gardens is a fun place to
explore ponds and other water features, plus fish and plants—
including carnivorous ones like pitcher plants. It’s open
seasonally; check valleywatergardens.com or call (540) 879-2555.