Thursday, July 11, 2013

Junkin' Memories: The Big Flea Market

This year, they're down to four.  That really bothers me.  Not that long ago, there was one a month.  I think it's due to the economy, which means that they'll be bouncing back as things improve.  I hope so.  The Kentucky Flea Market, which I lovingly call "The Big Flea Market," has been a part of my junking life for decades now.

I cannot remember for sure when I first came to Louisville to go to the big flea market, which is held at the state fairgrounds.  I know I was aware of it when I was in high school, because I remember reading an article about it in the paper.  I know I was going by the time I was in college.  One of my roommates was from the same part of the state as me, so we would ride home together for the holidays and such.  I made a couple of trips to the flea market with him and his family then.

It was when I was in college that I went one time with my dad when I was really sick.  We made it through like two rows and I had to leave.  He called my mom, and the consensus was that I must be really bad sick if I couldn't stay at a flea market!  Buncha comedians in my family.

I know that I've been a regular at the big flea market ever since I moved to Louisville.  It was a really wonderful deal in those days--all kinds of sellers selling all kinds of stuff at really good prices.  I've bought tons of comics there over the years, plus books, CD's, religious articles, and just general fun stuff.  (Not to mention the occasional practical item.) 

The flea market was a monthly deal in those days.  If there was a holiday in the month, then it was held on the holiday weekend.  If there wasn't, then it was usually the last weekend of the month.  Like I said earlier, I think they were still having monthly shows as late as last year.  The holiday shows were the ones to be sure to attend.  Lasting four or five days (depending on what day of the week the holiday fell), they would often fill up two wings of the fairgrounds exhibit space.  That's a heckuva lot of room!

In the past few years, the two wing shows have fallen off considerably.  It finally settled into a pattern where the Labor Day and New Year's Day flea markets would take up one wing, plus an extra hall.  Not quite as much room as before, but still considerable.  The extra hall is dedicated to antique sellers and there's always some awesome stuff during those shows.

For at least a decade before she died, my mother and I would make a trip to either the Memorial Day or the 4th of July flea market.  It was one of our traditions.  Going with Mom was about the people watching as much as the shopping, but we did a lot of that too.  She had opinions about everyone and everything and didn't mind sharing them.  We could have a ball just sitting on a bench watching the world pass us by.

The entire thing is run by one family-owned company that also does flea markets in Indianapolis and Knoxville.  They used to do one in Nashville as well, but discontinued it a while ago.  A few years back, the man that started the company passed away, but his family is carrying on.

I'm kind of surprised and a little disappointed to see them cut back so much this year.  I know part of it is the economy, which is hurting both vendors and customers.  The presence of so many vendor malls and flea markets here in town can't be helping either.  People don't have to wait for a special weekend any more.  They can come on over any time and get their bargain shop on!  It's kind of ironic to be involved in a retail system that might be hurting the flea market I have loved so much over the years.

Another factor that doesn't help is the fairgrounds itself.  They've let some of their fees and things get really out of hand.  It costs eight bucks to park now!  Outrageous.  When I actually go to one of the shows with an antique wing, I have to plot to get around the parking fee.  Those are the shows I am most likely to be looking for merchandise, so I need to not pay 8 bucks to park because I don't want to have to add that in to the cost of the items.  I've ridden my bike.  We've parked somewhere else and walked in.  I've had Keith drop me and the granny cart off outside the gate and pick me up later.  I've flapped my arms and flown over the fence.  (Okay..maybe not that last one...but if I thought it would work, I'd give it a try!)

I'm remaining hopeful that, as soon as it is feasible, the big flea market will increase the number of shows again.  I may not be able to go to all of them like in the good old days, but I'll definitely go to two or three a year!  Old habits die hard.  Whether shopping for me or for a booth, I'll always look forward to a visit to the big flea market.

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