Flea Markets – The Thrill of the Hunt

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I grew up going to the Shipshewana Flea Market in Northern Indiana, located in the heart of Amish country’s rolling hills and dairy farms. It was a tradition each year, at least once a summer. The trip involved an early morning drive in order to get to the market before the summer sun became too hot and the crowds became too thick. My mom, sister and I would stop off and get coffee at McDonalds drive-thru and off we’d go with our oversize, straw bags to stash our anticipated treasures, passing the buggies on the two-lane highway along the way. We loved the hunt, the variety, the thrill of a hidden, timeless bargain, passed over by most for the cheap T-shirts with slogans such as “Get ‘er done!” or the boxes full of $1 markers or chip clips. We knew what to look for and what to pass over. We walked the rows of dusty dirt, no shade to be found, perusing tent after tent of “junk” to find the rusted French iron planter or the weathered silver tray. We would stop for fueling and eat the Amish-made chicken sandwich or a piece of fresh rhubarb pie. We’d buy the carmel corn. We’d laugh at the tiny, fluffy dogs in strollers (why?) and the wooden signs with phrases carved into them for everyone’s lake house about peeing in the lake and blessing the mess. Sometimes we found amazing deals. In fact, a French wooden chandelier from that flea market currently hangs in my office as I write this post. Sometimes we didn’t find anything at all and we’d grumble about it being “the worst year for the market yet” – but we always had fun. It was the experience, the heat of the summer, the wandering and sifting, the people-watching and the anticipation of rummaging through a bin in a hidden corner and finding “the best deal ever”, the piece of junk that one of us could see the potential in, the possibility. Isn’t that the fun in life? Seeing the potential in the junk, searching for the tiny treasure in the mess, even if you never find it? It’s the hunt we all enjoy. Finding something at the end of it is just icing on the Amish cake. My love of the flea continues. I’ve been to markets in London, Paris, Florence, Australia, the Old West, the dirty South, upstate New York, Peru, South Africa and beyond…but nothing will be the same as Shipshewana. I’ll treasure those summer memories as much as I do my findings. And I’ll always stop to take a second glance, a closer look, at something I think has potential.

Favorite flea market finds: inspiration for the “hunt”:

  • Old, silver serving trays (just in need of a little polish!)
  • Garden accessories such as stone or wire urns, rusty metal buckets, iron candle chandeliers, bird baths
  • Lanterns to hang indoors, outdoors or rest on the floor or patio
  • Ceramic jars to display on bookcases or use as pots for topiaries indoors
  • Glass jars and vintage wine bottles or demi-johns to use for storage or as centerpieces
  • Vintage batik fabrics or throws, hand-made quilts
  • Wooden bowls, dishes and trays for kitchen display or to use as candleholders
  • Chandeliers – wood, iron, metal, crystal
  • Vintage dishes and wine glasses (think Anthropologie-style or something from your grandma’s kitchen)
  • Vintage jewelry
  • Semi-precious stones – either in settings or loose (having a necklace made from a loose stone is still less expensive than buying it in a store)
  • Handmade wood furniture (the Amish do this so well) like stools, dressers, side tables and bookcases that just need to be stained or painted
  • Old door knobs, drawer pulls and hooks made of iron, glass or metal
  • Art – water colors or oil paintings by local artists; carved sculptures
  • Antlers – to hang or display on a coffee table or atop a stack of books
  • Copper – pots, buckets, bracelets…