Flea markets may not have fleas, at least the one I went to, but they do have a little bit of everything else.
I headed to the “Giant Flea Market” at the Expo Gardens in Peoria on an icy Jan. 27 to see what I could find.
Despite the freezing downpour, I was surprised at how many people showed up and how full the gravel parking lot was.
After paying the $1.50 admission, I began to comb my way through the market and the eclectic nature of the event became evident immediately.
Right after paying at the gate, customers walk into a foyer room off the main hall.
The foyer room, while much smaller than the main exhibit hall, was still packed with anything and everything. Whether it was a doll of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or old Cubs games on vinyl, there really was no rhyme or reason to what was where in the small room.
I finished looking through tables of silverware and toy cars, lots of toy cars to be exact, and headed into the main room where I met a seller from Pekin.
“Last month was my first month,” Barb Brown said. “We did it in December, which was shortly after Christmas, and did pretty good, even though it was close to the holiday time. We thought we would try it again.
“It’s nice meeting all the new people. It’s been fun.”
Brown said that her items come from things she has at home, items purchased at auctions and any odds and ends she can sell. Those auctions that she purchases wares at may have been directly responsible for her wanting to try out the flea market, she said.
“I have been to a few auctions and kind of got the fever, I guess,” Brown said. “It has just been fun seeing the new stuff that’s been here. We always walk around and see everybody else’s stuff.”
After talking to Brown at her table filled with purses and Star Wars figures, I made my way around the giant exhibit hall, which was pleasantly warm for how cold it was outside.
A majority of what I saw on the far left side of the hall were sellers offering used video games, DVDs and vinyl records.
Another frequent find was homemade items. Some sellers had knitted scarves and sweaters while others offered home cooked dog treats.
At the back of the hall there were several tables filled with handcrafted yard signs, toy NASCAR cars (a theme for the market, it seemed) and road signs that may or may not have been obtained by the most legal methods.
A few more odd finds in that area were several tables selling individual packages of soap and various hygiene products that looked to have been purchased at the local department store, which struck me as odd but, then again, the whole thing was kind of odd in terms of what was always waiting around the next row.
One vendor had rope necklaces with professional MLB and NFL team logos on them.
“We heard this is about one of the best places to sell at,” Gabe Cathers, a seller from Jacksonville, said. “It’s been pretty good so far.”
A table near the front of the exhibit hall was where I found my first purchases of the day. I really could not pass up a Bobby Hull hockey card from the 1967-68 season. I mean, he was the Golden Jet after all.
The vendor which I bought the Hull card from also had packs of cards from every sport you could imagine, even soccer, as well as other pop culture cards. I passed on the packs of New Kids on the Block and Dick Tracy for some vintage packs of NHL ones that ended up netting me Denis Savard and Jeremy Roenick cards from their time with the Blackhawks.
My only other purchase was the book “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer about Mormon fundamentalist compounds. The woman who sold me the book, Joann Smiley, explained that the vendors purchase space for the market at a rate of $14 for an 8-foot table.
“I’ve probably been coming out here for almost 20 years,” Smiley, a seller from Washington, said. “How much we sell depends on the month and it depends on who shows up. It’s like anything, it’s kind of a hit or miss.”
During those 20 years, Smiley said the market itself has not changed much, but people’s shopping philosophy has.
“I think the biggest change is that people are much more conscious about the money they are spending,” Smiley said. “They’re wanting more deals and are not afraid to ask.”
“When I come out here to buy, I am buying for my antique shows. I always get here really early, around 7:30 a.m. or so to start scouting things out.”
To keep her coming back over the past 20 years, there is something Smiley said she really enjoys.
“I like that you get to meet a lot of different people and that I can make a lot of connections,” Smiley said. “I like that a lot.”
While the vendors I talked to were mostly friendly, something that struck me as particularly odd, even creepy, was the amount of people I heard talking when I tried to take a few pictures of the exhibit hall.
“What is he taking pictures of?” I heard one voice behind me say.
“Tell him he can’t take pictures in here,” another voice said.
Besides the people freaking out over photos being taken, everyone shopping that I tried to interview told me no in a curt or gruff manner and one crankily grumbled out to leave her alone after I had barely gotten out saying hello.
Having seen what all I wanted to see, and getting a decent score on hockey cards, I decided I had riled the natives enough with my camera and questions and headed for the door.
The flea market is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the fourth Sunday of every month at Expo Gardens, 1601 Northmoor Road, Peoria.
Admission is $1.50. Children 12 and under are free with an adult. The next flea market is Feb. 24.
For those willing to travel, the next Third Sunday Market is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Interstate Center-West Expo in Bloomington.
Admission is $6 and children 13 and under are free with an adult.