`Who said no one here liked antiques?' Folksy and no-frills, Forney is the antiques capital of Texas

ANTIQUES are sold here with a folksy Texas drawl and a ``You name it, we got it'' assurance. Well, the warehouselike ``shops'' (some are Quonset huts) here don't quite have everything. But antiques, near-antiques, and look-alike antiques are displayed - by the acre, it seems - in this farm community that in 20 years has become known as the ``antique capital of Texas.''

It's no-frills selling in these quickly-put-together structures that offer thousands of square feet of antiques and collectibles from all over the world.

There is no hushed atmosphere of reverence for antiquity such as one finds in antiques shops on New York's 57th Street or London's New Bond Street. There's just a vast array of objects, through which you pick your way in big, barny spaces - aware as you poke around that the fine points of age and provenance may get a little hazy.

Forney is 25 miles due east of downtown Dallas on highway I-20. Lower rents and reduced overhead costs enable dealers here to offer cheaper prices to the customers, who now come from all parts of the United States and many foreign countries.

Antiques invaded the little town in 1968 when Red Whaley found that his antique store in a suburb of Dallas was threatened by road widening. Needing somewhere to ``go and grow,'' he moved his business to a new site in this unlikely community.

``People in Forney, all 3,000 of them, thought we were crazy,'' his son Richard recalls. ``They said Forney could never support an antique store that size because nobody in Forney liked antiques anyway.''

The Whaleys explained that they had a far wider market in mind than the local population, and it wasn't long before they were joined by other dealers who wanted the freedom and the space to expand.

Today, Red Whaley runs Big Red's Antiques, and his son Richard oversees Little Red's Antique Supermarket. They are surrounded by an enclave of other antiques operations with names such as Granny Had It and the Jot 'Em Down Store, as well as simpler names such as Tillman's, Stone's, Johnson's, and Jim's.

Vintage Americana is everywhere, including rolltop desks, duck decoys, picturesque streetlamps, old cash registers, scales and safes, churns, urns, sleighs, and sleds. Also porch and newel posts, fireplace mantels, wall clocks, and masses of furniture groups that looks as if they came off 1930s and '40s Hollywood movie sets. Rows of carousel horses are colorful reminders of childhood thrills.

England is represented, as well as France, Belgium, and other European countries - visible in all those huge wardrobes, armoires, gilt mirrors, curio cabinets, marble pedestals, and serviceable early-20th-century chests and dressers.

``We have a 200-piece shipment coming in tonight from Vienna,'' says Richard Whaley, ``and two grandfather clocks from Germany are going out by truck this evening to the West Coast.''

He explains that a lot of people come in here from California, shop all the shops, compare prices, and then go home with a load. He also says he has shipped several 40-foot trailer loads of American antiques to Japan, where the demand is high.

Down the farm road a piece is Clements Antiques & Auction Gallery. ``We've been here about 17 years,'' says partner J.D. Lewis, ``and we've seen many other buildings go up and other dealers moving in. We've been the ones to advertise nationally - and, of course, that has helped put all Forney dealers on the map. We came to welcome new dealers when we saw that the more there were, the more everyone benefited.

``We had customers in today from Illinois, Wisconsin, and California,'' Lewis told us. ``Many come for our fine reproductions as well as our antiques.''

Clements, like other dealers here, is involved in reproduction programs in England and the Far East. With 75,000 square feet of space, Clements is one of the largest dealers here. The store also runs auctions the second Saturday of every month, as well as on-premise estate sales.

Dallas interior designer Jeb Mace, who recently decorated the governor's mansion for Texas Gov. William Clements, says, ``Designers are fortunate to have Forney. It has some fantastic stuff. Of course, it has an accumulation of things that are not important, but it also has pieces that are a lot of fun and that a decorator can use in dramatic ways.

``If I want the finest in antiques, I go to New York. But if I am looking for things that average people can afford, or I am doing an offbeat home for a young couple in their 30s, or looking for interesting items for dens and children's rooms, I go to Forney.

``I've also discovered that a person with a trained eye can find treasures at bargain prices there. I once bought a very unusual folding end table with pedestal for $3,000 there that I was assured by experts would bring from $18,000 to $25,000 on Christie's auction block.''

Dealers here confirm from their wide-ranging network of sources that their stock is constantly changing - their search for antiques never lets up.

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