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Shopping Texas Hill Country

Our first stop is Kerrville, about a half-hour southwest of Fredericksburg, where the Sunrise Antique Mall, in a restored 19th-century building, presents cases of merchandise that speak of a genteel Texas past: sterling silver monogrammed napkin rings; beaded evening purses that might have graced the arm of a debutante capable of executing that famous Southern curtsy. (Head to the floor, please.) Upstairs, the goods have a more rural flair—a lamp's tin shade is punctured with pinholes in the shape of the Lone Star State ($175); that same design is rendered in spotted axis-deer fur on oversized pillows.

We head over to Ingram, a town that time forgot, a mere five miles west of Kerrville. There, a group of small shops and art galleries back onto the drowsy Guadalupe River. It looks like the Hollywood back lot version of a Western town, but the shopkeepers we meet are too unusual to have come from Central Casting. The star of Ingram is 74-year-old Don Atkinson, the internationally renowned owner of a custom cowboy boot store. "Don's a one-man shop," says his wife, Virginia, who has masses of black hair and wears a deerskin shirt. "He measures your foot and builds your last. You could have the most beautiful boots, but if the last is no good, who can wear 'em?" The boots start at $850, though if you want what Virginia calls "full alligators" it'll set you back $5,000. Whatever you decide, you'll have to wait at least a year; Don is incredibly meticulous, and there's quite a backlog.

We make it to Boerne—another town, like Fredericksburg, where at least 20 antiques stores line the main street—with little time to spare before everything closes. At the pristine Tri-K Antiques, the owner parades around in dungarees that clearly acquired their faded patina the old-fashioned way. His store, with its Mexican-American War artifacts and even an extremely dilapidated 90-year-old saddle, is the antithesis of the faux-antiques shops springing up all around him. Though he offers to give me a good price on the rotting saddle, I cannot for the life of me imagine it in my apartment, a place already bursting with 100 years' worth of castoffs.

Back in Fredericksburg, we follow signs to the Comfort Village Antiques Show & Sale. I love any antiques show, big or small, indoors or out, and all the posters I've seen in Fredericksburg's windows have me eager to open my purse. In the meadow that the show has overtaken, local ladies are selling freshly baked snacks, and what's crowding the dealers' sales tables?Massive Burgundian armoires. Enamel canister sets that say pâtéand poivre. I manage to locate an all-American farm table with a blue-and-white-checked tin top that would sit perfectly on the veranda of my house in the country, if I had a house in the country. I'm sulking about the table when Karen suggests we take a spin in Comfort proper, which Ted had said was the most genuine of the hill towns.

Comfort turns out to have one of the most intact Germanic business districts in Texas. There's a noontime game of dominoes taking place on High Street; we stop for ice cream at an old-time parlor down the block. Comfort even has its own version of Fredericksburg's Dooley's: a huge general store called the Ingenhuett Store, selling everything—hunting licenses, underpants, fishing boots, birthday cards—in an atmosphere that retains much of the flavor it must have had when it opened in 1867.

And then it happens, as I stroll a block or so from Ingenhuett and pop into Montye's West High Street Antiques. Just the way the songs on the radio say, I fall in love. The object of my ardor, a 70-year-old marble-topped nightstand ($450) with curious pressed-tin sides, could have come from a Brassaï photograph of Paris in the thirties. I gaze, I sigh, I stroke its rosy marble top.

All at once it dawns on me: Who says a one-bedroom apartment that already houses four armoires, a massive library cabinet, an overstuffed couch, and about 3,000 old dolls can't open its heart to one tiny little marble-topped nightstand?

LYNN YAEGER is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.


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