Older Is Better: The Five Best Antique Malls in Houston

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What better way to honor your living relatives than with gifts from someone else's dead relatives? Wait, no, we want you to like antique malls! Let me try again: Shopping for an older relative, who remembers the days before iPads? And Wii? And even cell phones?! You might want to treat them with a bowling shirt monogrammed with their uncle's old automotive shop's logo. Or look for a beautiful train kit from the 1940s, perfect for the non-trendy person who wants to make an indie statement -- or just look like they're meeting Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

I like to get and give gifts that are just a wee bit more unique than a box of Omaha steaks, not that there's anything wrong with carnivores. So when I travel, I check out antique and collectibles shops for that special item. Original Hanna-Barbera Flintstones lunch pail? Check. USAF bomber jacket no doubt worn against the Luftwaffe? Check. Butter churn used by some unfortunate woman before electricity and pasteurization? Check. ANYTHING Star Trekian? Double check. You usually get more bang for your buck when a bunch of vendors are housed under one roof, so we've come up with a list of the Top Five Antique Malls in the H-town area.

Always check an antique shop for a pulse before you go. Here's some we know are open; some even have Christmas sales:

5. Carolyn Thompson's Antique Center of Texas, 7200 Old Katy Rd., Houston, 713-688-4211 It's conveniently tucked under I-10, near 610 just north of the Galleria, but is moving sometime after the first of the year, so tremendous deals are to be found amongst the heavier items, right? I kept going in, with all the banners announcing "Moving Sale," expecting tremendous bargains. Prices seemed high, and I work around a bunch of commodities traders, so I figured, what's it hurt to negotiate?

The staff was so accommodating, calling the various vendors with my offers. (Not much downward movement, though.) Then, to my chagrin, I learned that the State o' Texas is paying them to move a few hundred feet north, to the old JC Penney in the former Northwest Mall. It'll be a massive bill, and just so the current spot can cleared to serve as the tip of a parking lot, not even anything significant, in the expansion of US 290.

Oh well -- my Depression glass candlesticks from there will gleam just as brightly at the Christmas dinner table.

4. Red Queen's Attic, 900 3rd Street, Rosenberg, (no phone listed; you may contact them via their Web site) With a provocative name such as this, you can just hear old Uncle Bert's disdain: "Commies?! AND Gays?!" (Even though he wouldn't use exactly those words and even though some of his best friends are.) Go to the little garden section in the back for garden tchotchkes.

Do yourself a favor: Spend a Saturday visiting Rosenberg. This mall is in the historic section. There's a charming train station across the street. It's real homey, and on summer Friday evenings they have live bands in a vacant lot in the historic district. After you hit the shops, you can walk over to Bob's Taco Station, which earned its 15 minutes o' fame on the Food Network TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

3. Collector's Gallery, 2222 Postoffice St., Galveston, 409-750-0092 Just like everyone else, we have our memories of the Peanut Butter Warehouse and antiquables there and around the Strand, but have you checked out this little gem?

It's brimming with the kind of things we look for in a good antique mall, and spattered with little goodies we didn't expect, like reasonably priced, decent-looking handmade jewelry from this decade. Prices are firm enough so that you know you're not gouging them, coupled with the sellers' common sense not to list that ugly old, mid-century Farberware vase at book price because by golly, it's worth that much to some antiques arbiter somewhere. (Note to sellers: An item is worth what the market will bear. If a number of you all have the same item at some artificially high price, no one's going to buy it. It's a ceramic-and-wood lazy Susan, for God's sake, not a power generator during a blackout in a starving city teeming with looters.)

2. Spring Antique Mall, 1609-D Spring Cypress Rd., Spring, 281-355-1110 Everyone fusses over Old Town Spring. But few mention a nearby gem: the Spring Antique Mall. While commuting to Conroe to be with a friend in hospice, we needed a temporary distraction, and it's visible off I-45, a bar beckoning to an alcoholic.

After bursting into tears in front of an empathic vendor there, we somehow followed her to her car trunk, which was spilling over with mannequin heads. (We don't recall what prompted that segue, but we'd choose that frisky vendor as a friend any day.) We briefly considered making one of the heads our own, to perch it in the passenger seat and thereby speed up the commute via HOV lane. ("Officer, the antique mall lady encouraged us.") We finally weighed it out: More time with our dying friend v. jail for fraud in a batty attempt to gain more time? We chose the former. Life is short.

1. Alvin Antique Center & Marketplace, 2500 S. Loop 35, Alvin, 281-388-0537 It's plain on the outside, but delicious on the inside, with 55,000 square feet and a Christmas sale on everything!! Get brownie points with the older folks and take them with you so they can chill in the video games area where the payoff is a cool million -- wait, no it's a gift card. To the very same antique mall!

We like this mall the best overall. The prices aren't as stuck-up as most of those in Houston itself, where pricier rent prevails. Plus, there's a decent furniture collection for those of you who eschew being all matchy-matchy and like to personalize your environs -- but also, we found Jesus there. Or at least, a very fine embroidery rendering of Him! (Because it was only $15, we hope that's not a statement re: Him and is instead more of a reflection of the bank statement of one of His followers who was forced to sell at a very low price.) Beautiful addition to our Christmas festivities, having a picture of the Man Himself.

We also in the same trip snagged an olive green cookie jar -- chicken-shaped -- for the same price! Both are lovingly displayed in our home. The Alvin Antique Center's owners are branching out with another, smaller antique emporium nearby, where we snapped up some hard-to-find (and therefore pricey) Chalk Paint, which could give anything a vintage look.

Honorable Mention: Uncommon Objects, on S. Congress in Austin, in the midst of Hipsterville.

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