Antiquing Gone South

They call it “The Barn” optimistically. A real barn would be more inviting.

The first entry for our blog Don’t Even Go There ( is a tale from our town: Asheville, NC (aka “The Happiest Place on Earth”). Judge for yourself. —Mark Bloom & Jason Scholder

Before we begin this story, remember that times change, as do memories. What was once true may no longer be and visa versa. Keep that in mind as you read . . . all our stories.


To find antique bargains, people travel to out-of-the-way places with historic pasts—places like Marblehead, Massachusetts, or Solvang, California. Asheville, North Carolina, is another choice spot. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a haven for outdoors enthusiasts. Home to the Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn and Spa, the city also boasts a thriving arts scene, the South’s most impressive art deco architecture, and colorful local characters, such as “trustafarians” (trust-funded street people).

If you’re antiquing, you can do quite well there. Many stores offer authentic artifacts from the past, everything from candlesticks to claw-foot tubs. You can also find some kitschy fun, like plastic plates from the ’60s and a complete collection of Dale Earnhardt cups. Downtown has so many antique and second-hand shops, you can’t whip out a credit card wit hout hitting one.

Despite the plethora of choices, though, one place gets voted “Best of” more often than the rest. This place also has, in our opinion—from one ill-fated, wrong-turn visit a number of years ago—the most oppressive shopping experience of them all. The infamous Antique Tobacco Barn is a musty metal garage-like structure, larger than bowling alley but with less charm. Its aluminum facade inhibits breezes, thieves, and apparently, good taste. The environment is uncomfortably humid in the summer and seasonably uninhabitable the rest of the year.

During our visit, the items for sale inside were arranged chronologically, from oldest to ugliest. Some of the wares seemed too new to be considered antique. The rest were slowly disintegrating. The Tobacco Barn might be more accurately named “Garage Sale Outle t Center.” The merchants evidently believed that any old, dilapidated, or aesthetically irrelevant item must be an antique. Was there a really market for an original oil painting of plastic tulips on a Formica kitchen table? Perhaps it didn’t sell during the artist’s lifetime for good reason.

Like an Ikea store’s winding layout, the Barn’s entrance was easier to find than its exit. Once you wandered inside—through the narrow rows of “what was I thinking?”—you might feel compelled to keep going, believing that the night table you’ve always wanted waited for you just around the next bend. Don’t get us wrong; you might find a treasure there, especially if you’re looking for something … unusual, but the chances will seem to decrease with every turn you take.

Eventually, you’ll admit that the pounding in your chest is not love for the perfect affectation to place on your mantel. The quickening of your pulse, you’ll suddenly realize, isn’t joy at all. It’s fear! Fear that some of this bad taste will rub off on you. Fear that something heavy will fall on you, preventing your escape. Fear that asking for directions from the toothless “connoisseur” a pproaching you will lead to an unwanted conversation involving spare change. (He doesn’t need coins for the restrooms—they are free and worth every penny.)

When you emerge from the Barn at last, having wasted countless hours (but hopefully nothing more expensive than that), you will find yourself asking your partner questions that thousands of others have asked before you:

“Do you need a drink as much as I do?”

“When did I become someone who likes antiques?”

“Why do I feel like I should take a shower?”

Lessons Learned: Like cigarettes, the Tobacco Barn left a bad taste in our mouths. In the past, our government fought the tobacco companies and won. Someone should tackle the Antique Tobacco Barn next. Only then will the country be safe from the perils of antiquing gone south.

How We Saw It:
Blight-Seeing: 4
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 3
Inactivity Guide: 4
Rent-Attainment: 2
Spontaneous Consumption: 5
Fun Fraction: 2/5
Vibe-Rating: 1

If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Asheville Regional Airport
Native Population: 75,000
Normal Attractions: The Biltmore Estate, the=2 0Grove Park Inn & Resort, downtown, the thriving arts scene, the outdoor activities, and antiquing (unfortunately).
Final Point of Interest: Bele Chere, a huge outdoor arts/music festival that happens every July, draws 300,000 people including some billies from the surrounding hills.

Mark Bloom & Jason Scholder (Asheville North Carolina)
writers / editors / bloggers
“You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll stay home more often.”

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