There are many cute little antique shops in Cape May County, especially along Route 9 - and there's no better time to browse for that unique treasure than when the temperature is a little nippy.

"Route 9 has always been an antiques ally," said Arthur Schwerdt - who should know. He and partner Larry Damato have owned The August Farmhouse on Route 9 in the Swainton section of Middle Township for some 27 years.

Not only is he a shop owner and appraiser, Schwerdt loves nothing more than to talk - and write - about antiques. He has penned a column on the subject for the Cape May County Herald, a weekly newspaper, for a quarter-century and wrote "The Antique Story Book," a 2007 top-seller on

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"I think it started with the old barns," Schwerdt theorized about the proliferation of antiques shops along Route 9 and its offshoots throughout Cape May County, which, of course, chiefly is known for beautiful beaches.

"Around the time of the Bicen-tennial, Philadelphians were in-terested in Americana and would come down, stop in the barns and ask if they had anything to sell," Schwerdt said.

Historically, as antiques shops come and go (one right next door to August Farmhouse recently changed hands and is no longer a business), autumn is peak season for antiquing. That's when tourists and locals pack up their beach chairs and start thinking about home decor.

"People start looking at their interiors again," Schwerdt said. "In November and December, they have guests and are much more interested in what their homes look like."

Sure, some of those visiting antique shops on Route 9 and elsewhere in Cape May County - Cape May and Ocean City also boast several - are looking for something specific. But, just as often, they are perusing and chatting with friends and family members about interesting items they stumble upon.

"It's a wonderful activity," Schwerdt enthused.

"From now through Thanksgiving," he said on a Saturday in early October, "we'll get a lot of traffic from people riding through to look at foliage, and they'll stop here. Even if you're not out to buy anything, that's what people do. It's house after house of conversation pieces. This time they're out browsing; next time, they're buying."

Watch out - even if you're not in the market to buy, you'll probably end up finding something you just have to have when you stop into Teaberry Antiques and Collectibles on Route 9 in the Clermont section of Dennis Township, said Sharon Houston-Collins, who manages the large building housing 65 to 70 vendors. People especially enjoy exploring the five-year-old business with a cup of coffee in hand, she said. Currently in demand are vintage fire king casserole dishes, an American-made ovenware.

"They can find it right here," Houston-Collins said - along with a lot of other - ahem -shall we say - not so useful items.

"I just had a lady who had to have these two pigs (figurines) from Germany," Houston-Collins said. "Now she'll be a pig collector."

Just a mile off of Route 9 in South Seaville, Carrie and Phil Dickinson have operated Treasures Past, a mini-mall of antiques vendors, for a decade. In addition to general merchandise like furniture, glassware, jewelry and toys, one dealer specializes in sports memorabilia; another in fishing lures and more, and yet another in watches and coins.

"We pride ourselves in being antiques only," Carrie Dickinson said. "And we're warm and friendly - we serve snacks on weekends and are pet friendly."

Sisters Lydia Coyle of Delray Beach, Fla., and Carolyn Peel of Raleigh, N.C., were making their way from shop to shop on Route 9 on a recent cloudless autumn afternoon, spending a few enjoyable hours before their niece's wedding in Stone Harbor.

"We don't do this at home," Coyle said. "It's too hot and in Florida, there's no antiques."

Coyle says she was not looking for anything in particular, as she wouldn't be able to carry it home on the airplane. But she knows what she likes when she sees it - particularly colonial Chippendale furniture, highly sought-after in the Philadelphia region, and Windsor chairs. Oh, and antique diamonds, she laughed. Well, duh, what woman doesn't like antique diamonds?

"It's always fun to look at different places when you're somewhere else," Peel said.

In Schwerdt's August Farmhouse, there is plenty to look at.

"This is all our stuff," Schwerdt said by way of introduction to the circa 1730 farmhouse (with a Victorian front put on in 1867) chock full of decorative antiques, estate jewelry and collectibles. One could spend hours listening to Schwerdt talk about the items, most of which are 50 to 100 years old and range in price from a couple of dollars to thousands.

Take the magnificent hand-painted, artist-signed 30-tile Delft scene of a street in Holland. Schwerdt could - and does - go on for minutes about the meaning of the scene, and how it's representative of the Dutch idea of inclusiveness.

But the shopkeeper doesn't know quite as much - yet - about a George Washington bust made of salt he picked up in an estate sale.

"I haven't had that evaluated yet; it's probably from the Thirties," he said of the bust. But of one thing, Schwerdt is certain: "This is stuff you can't buy at Macy's."

Antiquing in Cape May

By nature, antique shops come and go and often are run as a side job for owners. Also, each is different from the next - one might have mostly furniture, while its neighbor has mostly jewelry and collectibles. The number of antiques retailers in Cape May County has dwindled from 68 about a decade ago to about 40 now, according to local authority Arthur Schwerdt.

The decline in shops is "not because interest in antiques is waning, but because it's tough to be in retail in general," Schwerdt said.

The Cape May County Department of Tourism has compiled a list of addresses and phone numbers for almost 50 antiques retailers, along with a map. Print it out from

and head out for a ride. You never know what you'll find.

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