The local founders of this landmark event share why they keep putting in the work, decades later
Raymond and Martha Stokes, of Lynchburg, along with their daughter Lesley Stokes, have always appreciated antiques. But a simple reverence for old stuff wasn’t enough—they also shared a strong desire to build community within the industry, leading to the creation of an event that has transformed the mid-Atlantic’s antiques scene for the better.
It all started in the early 1980s, when Raymond and Martha, eager to share their hobby with locals, coordinated an antiques show as part of Lynchburg’s two-week fall festival called Kaleidoscope, which met at the old city market in Downtown Lynchburg.
“It was well received by the community, and we built a good following of dealers,” said Raymond, now 80 years old. “It’s amazing how this event evolved and grew in support.”
To their surprise and gratitude, the small Kaleidoscope event slowly developed into one of the largest antiques expositions in the mid-Atlantic, now held in Fishersville, Va., right off Exit 91 on I-64 in the Shenandoah Valley. It has quickly become a hot spot for a wide range of antiques and has gathered hundreds of dealers and thousands of buyers semiannually from across the country.
More than 300 exhibitors and dealers participate on average each May and October. The Fishersville Antiques Expo features a wide range of merchandise of all price points, making it affordable for novices, and competitive for seasoned collectors.
“Loving antiques myself, I am just thrilled that we have been able to do this, and that people enjoy it, and that young people learn from it,” said Martha, also 80 years old. “I’m very proud of it.”
Items may include furniture, old tools, jewelry, craft boxes, old advertisements, travel posters, paintings, sculptures, and movie memorabilia. Shoppers can also expect to find an array of comic books, postcards, stamps, glasses, silver, linens, vintage toys, clothing, cast irons, action figures, and even select cars.
“You can come to Fishersville and spend $5 buying something, or you can spend $10,000 on something,” said Raymond. “The range of merchandise is so broad.”
“We want to have a great show, good dealers, and a great experience,” Lesley added.
The 200+ acre venue includes several buildings, a couple of livestock barns, and rows of outdoor space for dealers to set up tents and displays.
“Antique dealers are one of the most honest groups of people that you will ever meet,” Raymond said. “We have dealt with hundreds and hundreds of dealers. They are really kind and have a good set of values. And that is so refreshing. … Most of these dealers are also wonderful educators. They love to share the information that they have because of the passion for what they’re doing.”
Ron and Susan Derrow, owners of Shumake and Johnson Antiques located near the show’s vicinity, have participated as dealers in the expo since its fourth showing. Their business specializes in country furniture—farm tables, cupboards, food safes, and a touch of reproduction folk art.
“Lesley and her parents have just been great people, and they’re good promoters,” said Ron, who has arranged their display in the same spot in the sheep barn for 64 out of the 68 showings.
“That show, it has something for everybody,” Susan added. “It’s not all country.
It’s not all furniture. Most people who want antiques, they can usually find what they are looking for.”
Originally, the Stokes family partnered with fellow dealers Sam and Mary Ferguson to organize the show, but since the Fergusons’ retirement in 2019, the show has been fully operated by the Stokes family trio.
And the Stokes family considers the Fishersville Antiques Expo a labor of love that’s year-round. When they aren’t organizing the two-day event, they are recruiting antique dealers across the East Coast, answering questions, and selling advertisements.
“We get up every day, and it’s a workday,” Raymond said. “You have to have a purpose in life, and this keeps us connected to the world.”
Despite being one of the largest shows in the mid-Atlantic, its purpose has never been to be the biggest or fanciest. The Stokes’ primary goal is to foster community, educate young collectors, and provide the most enjoyable event for all parties involved.
The family said the biggest challenge facing the industry has been the age demographic, which consists of mostly the older generation.
“I’d like to be able to flip a switch and open the eyes of the younger collector and generation and encourage them to start collecting,” Raymond said. “It’s amazing what’s thrown away every day in this country that has real value, simply because the inheritor is totally unaware of what’s really valuable.”
To accommodate this shift, Lesley has taken a modern approach to the show’s marketing reach, utilizing multiple social media platforms to advertise and promote the event.
“We want to reach the younger age groups and let them know about this event,” Lesley added. “There isn’t anywhere else nearby that they can come, have a great experience, find things to make their houses more their home, and to have a good time doing it at a good price.”
“In buying an antique, you have something that is unique,” Martha said. “Not everyone else has it. It’s very special and one of a kind.”
The next show will be May 20 and 21, 2022.
The entry fee for Friday is $10, and Saturday is $5. For more information, visit Fishersville’s website heritagepromotions.net